I'm back! ...As .you probably noticed, I took a little, well-deserved blogging hiatus! Sorry about that! ...but this was a concious decision. My last blog was 5 weeks post my BRCA1 preventative double mastectomy. A week or so after that, I decided that it wasn't necessarily helpful for my recovery process to be constantly thinking/refering everything I was doing back to my surgery. I needed to let myself enjoy getting back into the swing of normality, focusing on the things I was doing in the present moment and looking forward. As everything I had done, even thought about, in the months of September/October had been so completely surgery orientated. So, thanks for letting me have my little blogging break!
...And here is my last 2 months in a nutshell: I eased myself back into doing and teaching my beloved yoga again, I started heading out and about much more regularly, I restarted school and my nutritional consultation work ...basically I started life as usual, feeling like I was fit as a fiddle...
...And everything had been going FABULOUSLY... until.... well, it's typical really, isn't it?!... Early last week I had literally just started thinking that it was probably time to blog again, to let you all know just how lucky I have been in my cruisy, bump-free road to full recovery. I had even downloaded these two plump little grapefruits for the blog, as the perfect representation of my incredibly well-behaved girls! .....well-behaved until this time last week.
I left the UK in early December (after getting two-thumbs up from my breast care nurses) and spent a couple of amazing, sunny weeks with fabulous friends in Dubai and attending a stunning 3-day wedding with my mum, in the beautiful desert of Ras Al Khaimah. Things were feeling pretty perfect! ...It was my last day in the desert, I hopped out of bed in the morning, went for a swim, ate breakfast, looked in the mirror ...and saw that my left boob had collapsed. I hadn't felt anything, as I no longer have nerve endings in there, but it was very clear from looking at it that something was definitely wrong! My left breast was sitting lower and half of it was flat ...the best comparison that I can think of is that it looked like a punched cartoon! ...You know when a cartoon gets hit in the side of the head and so half of their head goes flat, while the other half is still round and full ...yes, unfortunately, just like that! Reeeeally funny in Tom & Jerry, but not so funny on my chest! It was very distressing to see it like that ...ample stress and tears, as you can probably imagine. Thankfully my mama was there to calm me down and make a plan: I flew out of Dubai later that day, landed in Singapore and went straight in to see a breast specialist.
The Diagnosis: a couple of the stiches holding my implant in place have popped open, so my implant has shimmied out of it's hammock (the piece of material keeping the underneath of my implant in place, needed as I obviously have no tissue in my breast to keep it locked in position).
Prescription: wear the biggest, tightest medical bra that you have ever seen (super sexy as you can imagine!) to hold the implant back where it should be sitting ...this may fix it on it's own, or I may need to be slightly reopened and restitched when I return to the UK. Boo!....
But WHY did this happen?!! I didn't do anything different ...the doctor assured me that it wasn't my yoga, as I do much more yoga in London than I had over my last week in the UAE ...the answer is simple: I wore a bikini and cocktail dresses! So although my chest may have FELT fine and the nurses had given me the 'ok' to live life as normal, it seems my girls still needed more support. By wearing less-nuturing clothing, well, I allowed my lefty to jump ship. Bugger. ...Since then I have been religiously wearing my corset-esque, nana bra (not ideal as I am holidaying in the sunny tropics!) and things seem to have settled back kind-of-in-place again ...so keep your fingers crossed for me please!
So, anyhoo, as much as I wish I was writing with the bestest boobie news ever, unfortuantely, it looks like I am STILL on this journey to boob recovery ...a path which has taken an annoying turn. But it's ok. This whole turn of events has made me reflect on the importance of perspective ...this is just a mini blip, all part of my preventative process ...I mean, really, ANY blip that I endure now, is better than the breast cancer I could have experienced. ...So, take this away with you too and remember the 'big-picture' notion. Keep this in mind as you go on with your day: any imperfect moments that you experience today are just minor blips in the grand scheme of things. So, focus on your positive, rather than your negative. ....Me? I don't have breast cancer. That's my positive ...and that's a BIG positive ...so really, anything else that happens now, is just a teeny little blip.
Good to be back guys! Thanks for reading!
Love, Emma xx
It has been exactly 5 weeks since I went under the knife, having BOTH of my breasts removed. ...Wow, how quickly has that time gone! It feels like I have done 'so much' and 'nothing', all at the same time! Time flies when you are having ...ummmm...not a lot of fun! ...But, here I am, now, over 1 month later, with two new breasts (both containing no tissue, just implants under muscles) and, after hearing that my removed tissue presented with some "unusual cells", well, I know I made the smart/right decision for me and for my body. My breasts are no longer an extreme risk to my health, I am still cancer-free ...and I plan on staying that way.
So, as you can imagine, having debilitating surgery and a massively, time consuming recovery period, I have learned A LOT about myself. I could drone on about the multitude of little life lessons throughout my recovery thus far ....but, really, what it all boils down to is just ONE succinct point.... and here it is...
Thanks to the foresight of my snap-happy, social media loving mum (and I quote her: "You will thank me for this later, Darling, it's for your blog!"), I have a not-so-glamorous, but extremely acurate, visual timeframe of RECOVERY PHOTOS in the first 7 days post-surgery! ...tap eac of the pictures to read their captions and know what was going on...
I did it! It finally, actually happened... 11 days ago, I had my BRCA1 prophylactic double mastectomy procedure. It's over, it's done... now for recovery.
I really can't believe it has only been 11 days since I walked into the hospital, experiencing such an all-encompassing, heavy sense of fear and anxiety. I felt like I was a little girl, not an adult. Seriously, the impending sense of doom at facing the unknown, as well as my complete lack of control over what lay ahead, left me paralyzed with extreme fear in a way that made me feel like a child. It was petrifying to feel so small.
But since then, I have been wholly different. As soon as I woke in the recovery ward, the fear was gone, washed away, and replaced with an immediate sense of relief. The build up of anxiety had vanished, the worst was 'all over' ...and what an absolute whirlwind my recovery has been so far. Since the operation on September 13th, I am certain that I have experienced absolutely every single extreme emotion and feeling known to man, in their most magnified forms ...it has been torturous and relieving all at the same time... but best of all? It's now done.
I stayed in hospital for three days after my surgery. It was painful, I'm not going to lie. It was not easy and it was not fun. I found the best way to manage my pain was to sleep ...and so I did just that. I took the pain meds and I slept. Thankfully, sleep is a core element of success in surgical recovery. There are certain bodily processes, such as restoration and repair, that your body can only perform when you are asleep, as it is not focusing on doing anything else (like digesting, walking, talking...). Post-surgery sleep provided my body with the chance to carry out these vital repairing and healing processes, without distraction ....so lucky for me that I could, ahem, "sleep for England", as my hospital-bed neighbour so eloquently put it!
Unfortunately for me though, my strong pain meds negatively affected my blood pressure (dropping it as low as 88 over 58). So, before heading home, my doctors took me off these, thus, making my car ride home...well, let's just say: "NOT pleasant". Having hardly moved for 3 days, the action of exiting the hospital, journeying home, making my way up to my apartment and falling into my bed, left me in intense pain, physically and mentally exhausted and very, very teary. I arrived home, I wept ....and I slept.
Since flopping into my own bed for the first time 7 days ago, however, my recovery has moved rapidly from strength to strength, with each passing day leaving me with greater ability and movement, as well as an increasing sense of independence. Thankfully, my gorgeous mum, Julia, has been staying with me; an absolute God-send. I have NO idea how I would/could have managed without her being my nurse, my carer, my arms ...my comfort ...So, thanks, mum.
On day 7, I headed back into the hospital to have my drainage tubes removed (you can see them in the above photo, I had one on each side). This was a huge turning point, as I realised that the intense, sharp, stabbing pains I had been feeling regularly in the upper section of each breast were being caused solely by the end of each of these drains. Once removed, my experience of pain (and recovery) completely changed; from sharp stinging pain, to dull, achey throb ...which is far more manageable and has enabled me to move and function with greater freedom.
Since waking up in recovery, as you can see in my charming little photo above, I have been wearing an oh-so-fetching, post-surgery ensemble ...the medical tape 'bikini', adorned with perfect areola-sized holes to ensure ample nipple exposure. This not only allows for semi-breast-support, but also enables adequate visual nipple-checking abilities, allowing me to keep an eye on the region, to ensure my nips weren't 'dying' ...(yes, nipple necrosis can be a post-mastectomy thing ...and I would advise you to avoid Google imaging it if you ever want to sleep soundly again, trust me...and FYI, all good...my nips are happy and flourishing and they thank you very much for asking!). This fashionable wrapping stayed on until yesterday, day 10; the official unveiling of my 'new girls' at the hospital. The bikini came off and I saw them, undressed, for the first time. They are a bit swollen and bruised ...but they are even, they look natural and the incisions are healing and barely visable. I am absolutely amazed. Truly, I am blown away. To think that less than two weeks ago my body underwent severe surgical trauma and yet has bounced back so quickly and efficiently ...well, I really could not be happier. ...And when the doctor informed me yesterday that they had "tested the removed breast tissue", with the left breast being clear, but the right having presented some 'irregular cells' ...well, it is clear that I made the right decision for my health and my future.
Over the last few days of recovery I have reached many milestones (eg. being able to independently make a cup of tea, washing my own hair, even managing to reach my electric toothbrush down from the THIRD shelf in the bathroom cabinet) ....and as I continue on this road to full recovery, I do so with high hopes, positivity and increasingly big dreams of being able to rehang my clothes in the wardrobe soon and pulling open my apartment door all by myself in the very near future!
Thanks for reading ...and for all of your support!
Love, Emma xx
No more sleeps. I'm sitting here on the morning of my double mastectomy operation.
D-day... or should I say B-day... has finally arrived.
It's 6:30am and I'm shoveling a big omelette in my face before the 'eating cut off time' approaches. My gorgeous yoga teacher, Hana, is arriving at 8am for a final class to take my mind off things and get me in a positive mindset, before heading into the hospital at 11:30 ...surgery at 3pm.
I'm sorry I didn't write more in my BRCA Blog last week, but I found the best way for me to be was 'crazy busy', to distract myself from my upcoming situation. So, I did loads, from catch up coffees to a photo shoot to my burlesque performance ....everything was great (I will write about it all during my recovery) ...and everything was the perfect distraction. Yesterday, I spent the day with my incredible mum, buying me all-new bedsheets, so I have a comfy new bed for my return. I was holding up well, just the odd teary moment. Then dinner with a small crew of some of my favourite people....again, held up well, even maintaining the odd boobie-joke at this point. When I got home at 10pm, I had a shower in the prescribed anti-bacterial wash, walked into my room and lost it. The distractions had finished...and I could not stop crying.
I'm not going to write a lot today, I don't think I should. I need to remain positive and relaxed. So, just a quick post today to say "THANK YOU" to everyone who has sent me love and support over the last few weeks, since my initial post a month ago. I REALLY appreciate all the encouragement and kindness that I have received from each of you. It has helped to support me, to get me to this point in one piece, and will continue to do so after today is done. THANK YOU ...and see you on the flipside ...when I'm bigger, better and boobie-er.
Picture credit: TIGZ RICE - http://www.tigzrice.com
... And so, the countdown continues.
Only nine more sleeps until I will finally be walking into London's Royal Marsden hospital in Chelsea, for my preventative double mastectomy operation, due to my BRCA1 gene mutation (check out my first blog post for more info on that). I am ready. In my head, heart and body, I feel prepared for it... but I have a sneaky little suspicion that as the day draws closer, I might be headed for a slight roller coaster of emotions... so, be prepared, people!
As you well know, what I currently consider to be the greatest 'silver lining' of my whole genetic mess, is the chatting and reconnecting with all my much-loved friends and family across the globe... as everyone has been getting in touch to send me love and well wishes (again, thanks so much! Love you guys!). I noticed, however, in all these conversations, that there is one specific question that seems to pop up every time: "What happens during the operation?" ...and so, I thought I would sit down and outline this procedure for you guys today, just so you know what I'm heading in there for.
I'm no doctor, so excuse the layman's language, but here goes:
After being placed under general anesthetic, my surgeon (Dr. Gerald Gui) will make a long incision under the fold of my breast. This will allow him to 'flip open' the breast (bleh! sorry, if you get squeamish), so that he can remove ALL breast tissue. Luckily for me, as I do not currently have breast cancer, I am able to keep my nipples... as new research demonstrates a minimal difference in the occurrence of cancer with/without nipples, post-this preventative surgery. Dr. Gui will then scrape the underside of the skin and nipples (Ugh, bleh, sorry again) to ensure that the only breast material left is the skin and outside portion of the nipple; all glands, tissue, nerves will be removed. Leaving the breast 'sack' completely empty for the surgeon to refill immediately... so, the removal and reconstruction all occurs in the one operation. I have chosen to go with a similar-sized implant to what I am already. I am a small-breasted gal, so will be increasing by just 1 size, b to c... coz why the hell not?! I should allow myself to get some joy out of all this crap, right?! ...(Thanks to my ladies who have convinced me not to be so boring, and to go a tiny bit bigger, you know who you are...and I love you!)
Since my implants aren't going to be hugely different, they can be inserted immediately, no need for expanders. Ladies who choose to go significantly larger or who have had a double mastectomy due to a breast cancer diagnosis (so their nipples have been removed, leaving the remaining breast now considerably smaller), they will often need expanders to be put in first. This enables the doctor to slowly stretch the skin over a few months, before performing a second operation to fit the permanent implants. However, this is not the case for me, so I will be getting my implants put in straight away.
Based on the recommendation of my surgeon (and after ample "umming" and "ahhing"), I have chosen for my reconstruction to occur UNDER the muscle. This was a really tough decision for me. It is incredibly difficult to make a choice about something as complex and overwhelming as surgery. As knowing once I'm under the knife, my choice is final and I have no idea which I am really going to prefer or want without seeing or feeling it on me. I was given the option of over or under the muscle. Both have pros and cons. But in the end I have chosen under, as it is the more tried and tested method. This type of implant maintains a longer recovery time (an obvious con for me, being a yoga teacher, as I will be 'out of action' for a lengthier period)... but it seems to me that there is less wiggle room for aesthetic complications in the future. So, I'm going for it... UNDER the muscle.
To get the implant where it needs to be, the surgeon will lift my pectoral muscle and slot the implant in underneath (check out the diagram to see what I mean). He will then use either a piece of synthetic material or pig skin (which has been stripped of all of it's genetic elements, so its basically like leather) and he will create a mini hammock for the implant to sit in. Without this, the implant could pull or slip out of position, as my breasts will have no tissue to hold it in place. Once that is complete, he will stitch me up... et voila! One boob done!... and he will swiftly move on to boob number two, to do the same thing all over again. The full procedure will take approximately 4 hours.
So, there you go. That is what I will be doing in 9 sleeps time. As I said, right now I feel calm and collected.... lets hope it stays that way... watch this space!
Luv, Emma xx
Diagram credit: https://www.novanthealth.org/
So, as you probably know, I finally wrote and posted my first ever blog post last Saturday. It was a big, bold post…so, as you can imagine, I have had BIG, BOLD responses! There were two main reasons for that posting: firstly, to keep all my friends and loved ones in the loop and, secondly, to really take ownership of my choice within my own mind…and both were achieved FAR beyond any expectation.
In light of the first aim, well, I was completely blown away! Thank you, thank you...THANK YOU! I cannot say it enough. My humble, little blog reached close to 8,000 people over this last weekend! Wowzzah! I have received so many loving, supportive messages from such a vast array of people. So, from readers near and far, known and not-yet-met...I just want to express my appreciation, I feel such a huge sense of gratitude to you all. I absolutely loved hearing from you, please keep it coming! Seriously, thank you so, so much.
The second purpose was to make my talk a reality. I relate this to going on a big holiday (…just stick with me, it will make sense!). You know when you plan a trip, you choose the destination, book the flights, lock in the hotel and then you talk about the fact that you will be going for months...but, somehow it always feels like something you are ‘just talking about’. Then all of a sudden, before you know it, you are sitting on the plane, seatbelted in, about to take off and, yeah, then it is real. Well, this was exactly my experience after writing that blog post. I have been planning this surgery since August of last year…but it wasn’t until last weekend, putting it into words and getting all of your amazing responses, that I was actually ‘on the plane’…and it was tougher than I had imagined. I have spent all week in a crazy roller coaster of emotions…oscillating between feeling proud of my bravery and randomly bursting into tears. I think it wasn’t until this weekend that I realised that I am really scared. I am scared of the procedure, I am scared of the recovery, I am scared of what I am going to look like and I am scared of what this gene could possibly mean for my future, cancer. I started worrying about things that I have never even thought of before…the fact that I won’t be able to breastfeed (I have never felt maternal or been sure if I even want kids) or that I may feel disconnected with my new breasts, as part of me will soon be ‘not me’. My mind has been chaotic and all over the place! It might sound ridiculous, but in a way I feel as if I am going through a grieving process for my future loss...and, yes, it is challenging.
This made me reflect on a fitting farewell for my breasts. It was suggested to me by many readers that I should do something special to 'celebrate my breasts' before my surgery.
So, here goes:
Many of you will know that I have dabbled in burlesque over the last couple years and every time I have, it has been a completely empowering experience. Standing bare(-ish) on stage in front of an audience fills you with an overwhelming sense of body confidence and is a absolute celebration of your physique and your femininity. It is not 'stripping', it is 'showgirl'. Burlesque is theatre, it's cabaret. Burlesque encourages you to be fearless. It embraces you, your curves, and your slightly-less-than-perfect bits and makes you feel utterly fabulous in your skin - the perfect last hurrah for my breasts.
...And so, on Sunday the 11th of September, 2 days before my double mastectomy surgery, I will be giving a solo burlesque performance in London with THE CHEEK OF IT burlesque school…and I would absolutely LOVE you all to come and support me…in all my boob-alicious glory!
To book tickets (I mean it, I really would love EVERYONE to be there! Don't be shy!):
…And for those of you that can’t make it, I have decided to make this a ‘BURLESQUE FOR BRCA’ act, so you can all sponsor my performance! ...with all money raised will going to cancer research to help fund genetic cancer research in the future.
This might all sound crazy to you and I really hope that you do not think that by doing this I am making a serious oncological issue seem flippant. I totally understand the grim nature of this genetic mutation…trust me, I am living it. To me, this act is my personal way to feel proactive and empowered. To enable myself to take some control over the complex and emotional situation that I am in, through celebrating me, my body and, most importantly, my breasts.
So, thanks for all of your love and support...and thanks for reading!
Luv, Emma xx
It's nice to FINALLY meet you all!...I have been meaning to start this blog for months, but due to a little health glitch in my life I delayed writing...but I'll get to all that in a minute...
First, let me say THANKS! Thanks for following me and for all your love and messages along the way. They make me feel warm and fuzzy!... and for my new GJOTRock-ers, let me quickly introduce myself: My name is Emma Gabriel, I live in the glorious city of London with my little pooch Frankie. I am a certified health coach, a fully fledged yoga teacher, a model mentor and I am currently 1 year away from completing my 3 year diploma in naturopathic nutrition. It took me a long time to find my 'healthy' feet (I won't blether on with the details again, as you can check out my 'About Emma' webpage to know more) ...but now I'm here, in my world of healthy. I'm living my life mantra of HEALTHY WITH A HINT OF NAUGHTY...make no mistake, I don't claim to be perfect and I definitely still have my moments where that 'hint' can become more of 'big a dollop', but in general, I'm healthier, happier and more balanced than I have ever been.
So, enough of that, what's with the 'breast' talk, you say?! ...Well, this has been my, ahem, little health glitch. In August of last year I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene...the gene made famous by Angelina Jolie a few years ago. This gene increases my risk of contracting breast cancer by 65-80% and ups my chance of ovarian cancer by 40%....so, obviously it's NOT ideal. Don't worry, I have been tested and I am currently cancer-free, phew. However, after seeing many specialist, establishing my options and giving this all a lot of thought, I have chosen to have a double mastectomy now...and my ovaries removed when I am 40 (I am currently 35). I will discuss all my reasonings for these choices and more about the gene in a later blog post...but for now, I just wanted you to know, that this is happening. In fact, I specifically wanted to post this today, as my breast surgery is happening exactly one month from today. I am having a double prophylactic mastectomy on the 13th of September 2016. Yes, I am having both of my breasts removed...that is the first time I have written that down...and, wow, yeah, that makes it seem very real. It is a choice that I have made and it is a decision that I am comfortable with. I have received varied responses to this news from friends and family...but in the end it is my decision and I choose to be proactive with my body and my health.
I inherited this gene from the most courageous and inspiring woman on this planet, my gorgeous mum, Julia, who has undergone chemotherapy 3 times as a result of her having the BRCA1 gene. I feel grateful to have this knowledge of my own genetics, a knowledge which my mum did not have. Had she not have been diagnosed with cancer, I would never have known about my gene. So thank you, mum, for enabling me, so I can now choose to be proactive, and for demonstrating first hand how to be strong in times of adversity.
So, in this post, I wanted to introduce you to me...and to my breasts...and to let you know where we are at right now and what's been going on with us. To be honest, I had never really thought about my relationship with my breasts before all this. I had always just thought they were nice, small, well placed, normal....but when faced with a situation where you are told that you are going to lose them, well you start to think about what they mean to you. They are my boobs, they are part of my body, they are part of my femininity, my sexuality, they are part of me...and, yes, I am sad and scared to lose them. However, to me this is a no-brainer decision.
Over the next few weeks, as I lead up to my surgery and post-op, I will be keeping this blog, both as a cathartic exercise for myself and as a way for me to explain to you what it feels like to go through all this.
So, thanks for reading...pretty intense for a first blog post!
Chat again soon....
Love, Emma xx