Coming Up For Air

Being a Previvor has felt like a full-time job more days than not. After two years of being what I call an active Previvor, including two surgeries and countless procedures, I find myself halfway through this stage of my journey and preparing to finish strong. 

My BRCA2 mutation means I'm at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer as well as at increased risk of developing pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Just like my nearsightedness, my pancreas and skin we need to be tested and observed for changes for the rest of my life - that's easy enough.

I opted to have a preventative double mastectomy in 2015 - that was a massive undertaking. I'm still learning how my reconfigured body works, Vests have become my second favorite accessory (socks still rank #1), after years of not understanding why people wear them - you either need a coat or you don't. At least that's what I thought.  There are days I feel like Frankenstein's monster, a bit cobbled together, a bit disconnected from myself. And there are days when I'm pumped knowing I'll have the perkiest boobs at the nursing home. The hardest thing to learn is to hold my shoulders back. I spent the better part of 25 years rolling my shoulders forward to minimize my breasts. Now that just causes pain - the new girls are showoffs.

Last year was an "off" year. Time to heal physically, adjust mentally, and prepare myself for the next phase. Mentally, I was ready. My doctor and I agreed at the start of this process that surgically reducing my risk of ovarian cancer should ideally happen before I turn 40. I measured my readiness by my ability to say out loud, with tearless certitude, "I am having a hysterectomy so that I can live without fear of ovarian cancer." It took two years to say and believe those words, but I got there and was at peace with the road ahead.

 What came next I was not prepared for. Menopause. I'd always planned on having kids that was part of what made the decision to have surgery so fraught. But I made the choice and was confident in it. How could nature beating me to the punch be such a sucker punch? The sense that things were beyond my control, that this was something happening to me versus a choice I was making for myself devastated me.

But then I remembered a proclamation I made at the age of twelve. I was a pious youngster with the good fortune of knowing many dynamic women who also happened to be nuns. Young Katey, being drawn equally to futures centered around family and faith determined that if she was unmarried and childless at 40 that would be the signal that a religious life was her destiny.

As if my younger self had special knowledge of the universe, my body was betraying me right on schedule. I'm not sure why this was comforting but it was, so I went with it and found my footing again. My world is less black and white than it was at 12, so I won't be taking vows anytime soon, though 'The NASCAR Nun' has a cool ring to it.

In the midst of all this, I suffered a set back that will result in needing to swap out lefty, a second time, and in the meantime restricts my mobility. So 2017 will bring 2 surgeries, hopefully at the same time. First I need to lose 20 lbs, then I need to find the center of my inner peace and stand there. Those tasks accomplished I'll be ready for what's next.

In the meantime, I'll be taking a lot of deep breaths, staring at sunsets, and skipping down the occasional hall.