My Point of Heu
So far, 2019 has been a year full of momentous memories, great accomplishments and life changing decisions.
After my choice to have a preventative bilateral mastectomy without reconstruction in the spring... My life focus took a new direction. Loved ones encouraged me to share my story and said that it would no-doubt help a lot of people. Most got the story right, while some misunderstood the details or heard minor inaccuracies.
1. My decision was preventative and thankfully I did not have cancer. Once my breast tissue was removed pathology checked and found no signs of cancer cells. I made this decision with the hopes that I would prevent breast cancer from occurring. There was a brief scare last summer but it was not cancerous.
2. I removed my natural breasts. All of my life I had never had a surgery before and some might have assumed that I had breast implants and thus had the implants removed, this is not correct. My breasts were real and I opted to have them removed without having anything else put in... So my chest is now flat without any breast tissue, or implants and no plans for future reconstruction. I know I've inspired many women with breast implants to seek having them removed due to other reasons and I applaud you, but I am not fully aware of this situation except to say that I believe you know in your heart what is best for your body.
3. I've become an advocate... I am not an expert when it comes to cancer, I didn't have cancer. My aunt, mother and grandmother had breast cancer, but that definitely does not make me an authority on the subject. I am open to sharing my insights, experiences and thoughts, but if you have any serious concerns or need medical advice you should see a doctor. I am kind of finding my way in this new role as a breast cancer advocate and I hope you will continue to join me on this journey of awareness and prevention.
I have been immensely uplifted by the 100% positive outpouring of love and support everyone has shone and shared with me. The aloha and positivity has been tremendous and I can't thank you all enough. With that... I think after spending 3 months recovering, somewhat isolated and unable to live my normal fast-paced and active lifestyle.., I felt uneasy. It's hard to describe but it was almost as though I felt I was holding myself to a higher standard and unsure of who I am now.
Yes, I underwent a major surgery. And, I am the same person, but initially I felt uncertain of how people would look at me, perceive me and how to view myself. Often I try to give myself pep talks and analyze what kind of advice would I give to someone like me? I know that I must be who I am and who I have always been. I need to show others that I am the same and I don't need to change. Luckily, I am back to my old habits and able to do everything I was able to do before. My personality is the same (I hope) and I am enjoying the activities that I love. The only things that have changed are: I lost a little bit of weight on my chest, I am more cognizant of what clothing appears flattering on my body and I never have to wear a bra again!
At times you need to find yourself to be able to build your confidence back up. During those challenging times is when you really can pinpoint what makes you tick, what you enjoy and who you are. Sometimes your mind makes things larger than they really are and you have to just realize that you're doing the best you can and need to take it one step at a time.
Sometimes you have to lose yourself a little to find yourself again.
After I was told that I had a very high genetic predisposition to breast cancer, I knew immediately I wanted to take measures to reduce my risk as much as possible. I could very well have had an 8 out of 10 chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime and I've seen the struggle, pain, agony and plight that commences when you are faced with fighting this disease. So, I opted to reduce my risk by over 90%, having a simple bilateral mastectomy was daunting, but I felt supremely confident that this is what I needed to do, to have a healthy life and to live with peace of mind. Nothing in life is a guarantee, but with this I know that I did my best to prevent cancer and live a full and enriched existence.
After deciding to remove both of my breasts, I also felt from my inner being that I didn't want to have my natural breasts replaced with implants. I had this strange feeling that if I put something foreign into my body that it would reject it. After seeing my primary care physician, who had been along with me on this journey of fielding the cancer calls, and seeing family members, friends and my mother die from the disease... she supported me in the effort to have my breasts surgically removed. But as the process began almost everyone involved confidently suggested that I have reconstruction done.
My surgeon, whom I love and adore, was firm that I review all my options. I saw additional surgeons who went over the methods of reconstruction and each time I left with supreme confidence that I did not want to have new breasts created or put in.
Essentially there were 4 different breast reconstruction options:
1. Expanders that are later replaced with a permanent implant.
2. Flap surgery - replacing with tissue from another part of your body.
3. Fat Grafting (I didn't qualify for this option)
4. Immediate Reconstruction - as soon as the breast is taken out an implant with skin and etc is put in.
To be completely honest, I wanted this to not consume my life. I wanted to heal as quickly as possible and go back to my active self. The stats showed the easiest way to bounce back within a few months was to just go flat. Assessing the recovery time and levels of satisfaction and success of these other procedures was concerning to me. The expanders is the most common process, but also involves going to the hospital weekly to have them filled and increased in size gradually, then after that is complete another surgery is done to take the expanders out and put the implants in. The flap surgery is a newer version and combined with the mastectomy seemed so long (to be asleep) and also involved cutting into my back and taking tissue from their and putting it in my breast pocket which would not have a nipple anyway. I was told I was too lean for the fat grafting option - oh well, LOL. And the success rates of the immediate reconstruction didn't seem to entice me at all.
I spoke with half a dozen mastectomy patients and all 100% of the ones that had reconstruction had issues with it, or had to have the implants taken out and/or another surgery (sometimes they will call that a touch-up). I am not saying reconstruction is wrong or a bad decision, I just didn't believe it was the right decision for me. And, honestly if down the road I wanted to have implants put in I could do it later. It's just suggested to have this process started when you have the initial surgery because it is a tad easier and speeds up the process.
In the end I am still confident, comfortable in my own skin and truly content with my body. My steadfastness to go flat was the only decision I was comfortable with and I am extremely happy with it. Surprisingly (my flat chest) isn't noticed at all by others and I feel empowered, strong and supremely positive. You can always opt for prosthetics, padded bras and other means to make it look like you have curves, but it's simpler, easier and such a breeze getting dressed now not having to worry about a bra...and my clothes fit fine, although I do try to wear more tops with ruffles or those that flow instead of the form fitted ones. I believe when it comes to your mind and your body, they go hand in and hand and you have to trust your instincts.
A few months ago I made a decision to prolong my life... Instead of living with an extremely high risk of breast cancer, I opted to reduce this risk by over 90%. I had a simple bilateral mastectomy. What this means is I had a preventative surgery involving having both of my natural breasts removed. Yes, I opted to surgically remove both of my breasts in an effort to live a longer, healthier, happier and more productive life. With that I also opted not to undergo reconstruction (get implants), so I went completely flat.
You might be wondering why someone under the age of 40, living a highly active lifestyle and in stellar shape would decide to have this done. Well, first and foremost I am an only child to a single parent, so I don't know anything about my paternal side of the family, but what I can tell you about my maternal family is a bit alarming. When I was just about to enter high school my mom's youngest sister died from cancer at the age of 34. I remember this because I was still living at home and my mom said it had spread from her breasts to her bones and literally everywhere. This was the first time I had heard about someone with cancer in our family. Then when I was working at KHON I remember taking a call from my grandmother and she was undergoing radiation for breast cancer. Again on my maternal side cancer begins to rear its ugly head.
In 2016, my mother told me that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She fought a courageous fight and after it had metastasized to her scull, liver, and etc she passed away in 2018. Since then my medical attempts at prevention began to increase. I had already been receiving a mammogram and MRI every six months, but they opted to do more testing. It turns out I tested positive for a genetic mutation called the RAD50 gene abnormality. This is a newer gene, compared to the commonly known BRCA1 and BRCA2, that is associated with an increased chance to develop female breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and possibly other types of cancer. They said it was very likely that my mother passed this genetic mutation on to me. In the midst of all this cancer talk and drama, I was scheduled for my mammogram. As luck would have it they found something in my left breast. Lucky for me it was deemed benign and life goes on right?
I had hoped that life would go on as long as possible and as long as I would like it to, so I decided to tackle the risk and opted to have my breasts surgically removed. I did a ton of research, saw several reconstructive surgeons, spoke to about a dozen breast cancer survivors and opted to have my surgery in the spring. It was an emotional time... nipple sparing wasn't an option because of the breast size and it was the anniversary of my mother's passing, my first time in the hospital (as I have never broken a bone or had surgery, I've never been under anesthesia and yes, I was scared) and it was the first time I would be staring cancer face on and saying NO.
My husband encouraged me to document the process, I initially didn't want to but he noted that I could help so many people in the future. So, I took videos from the day before my surgery through the entire recovery and so on. Overall, the procedure went perfectly. My recovery was pleasant and now I am back to my old self again, with some limited range of motion of my arms and I lost 5 pounds from my chest... But I am doing well. I don't miss my breasts, I don't regret what I did, I am open to talking about it and interested in sharing my experience in time.
Boobs don't define you, they didn't define me and honestly when I am out in public no one seems to notice they are gone. Mainly folks who know me will say I look like I lost weight, but the majority of the time no one says anything because they don't see anything. I am healed now and able to tell my story and when the time is right I will do so with courage and will continue to wear my scars with pride.
Some might say I am driven, an over achiever, goal motivated and inspired. What can I say, from middle school I was voted 'Most Likely To Succeed' and in High School I was voted 'Most Talented' by my peers. I've always had passion and with passion comes determination and with that comes pure drive to be the best. Once I set a goal I strive to reach and achieve it, once completed then I set a new one and so on.
I remember when I graduated from college, I had achieved the honor of being Miss Hawaii, competed on the Miss America stage and was hired at KHON2 as a general assignment reporter. From there I set my sights on being dubbed an "Award-Winning Journalist" I also wanted to be a News Anchor one day. Well within one year I accomplished becoming the co-anchor of Wake Up 2day and the awards soon followed. With a few Society of Professional Journalist awards under my belt and a coveted Edward R. Murrow (along with being named the first Lin Media KHON2 Employee of the Year) I was on a roll. I had set out to accomplish these goals and it was time to move on. Once I left my job and started my own digital marketing and communications firm I also started freelance writing. From there I wrote for Frolic Hawaii, various blogs and websites, I helped write several TV shows/specials and most recently the Forbes Travel Guide.
About a year after venturing on my own, one of the shows I helped write won a Telly Award, then this past year Lanai Tabura (known for Cooking Hawaiian Style, Food Network, and a popular radio/host) reached out to me to help with writing a show focused on the food alleyways in Osaka Japan. This was truly an honor because in 2018 Lanai and his team had won an Emmy for a similar show they did on Waikiki Yokocho's Ramen in Hawaii. It was a bit unconventional, as I had to research the restaurants they were visiting in Japan before they left Hawaii to shoot it. So essentially I was writing a show with content sight unseen. Overall, Lanai and his team (myself included) were nominated for 3 Northern California Area Emmy Awards. This is part of The National Academy of Television Arts & Sciences San Francisco Northern California Chapter, not to be confused for the daytime or primetime Emmy's that you see on TV. It is the same academy but this is focused on the regional nominees which included those in the northern pacific region.
Anyway, when we received word that our show was nominated for an Emmy in the Lifestyle - Program/Special Category, we were ecstatic. The whole team (host, producers, director, editor and etc) opted to fly to San Francisco for the Gala event and Award Show. We stayed near the airport, ate till our hearts content and also saw a few sights while in town. I love SF, it's a great city and really has the best food in the country right now. The night of the Gala we made it to the SF Jazz center where they hosted your first glass from the bar, hand-passed pupus, people mingled and took photos. Once the awards began we shuffled into the center and the program commenced. Luckily our category was the very first to be announced. In the end we didn't win the actual trophy, but it was an immense honor to be there for my very first time and to nominated is truly a huge honor for me as well. I wasn't sad or disappointed at all. Afterwards we enjoyed some light bites upstairs at the Jazz Center, went out to dinner then had an after-party in downtown. What a whirlwind! I am so grateful to be able to do what I love and also be recognized for my hard-work and dedication through the years - award or no... this has been an exceptional experience. Keep an eye out for more great things to come!
I was recently invited to an event at the Culinary Institute of the Pacific. I didn't know what to expect, but thought the evening would include of course -- food! I arrived and found out there was some sort of cooking challenge and we were going to be separated into teams. I had hoped I was wasn't going to be cooking, because I wasn't prepared. But as luck would have it, I was placed on a team with a Chef de Cuisine (an actual student from KCC) to help us and given the task to whip up a 4-course family style dinner in one hour. I was surprised to learn that 2 out of my 3 teammates were not versed in the kitchen and while I've worked in restaurants from the age of 15-30, I was a server and never a cook. But this team building challenge helped us to quickly harness our skills, divide our assignments and truly learn patience, kindness and understanding as a whole.
I volunteered to make the first course... a Lobster salad with a Lemon Vinaigrette, our second course was a freshly made Mushroom Risotto, main course was grilled Lamb & Asparagus and our dessert was a Chocolate Berry Tart. Time flew by, we needed help getting organized and our Chef that was assisting us was a lifesaver, he was amazingly kind, helpful and resourceful. He told us the first thing to do was to write a list of what we had and what we needed to do. Help was extremely essential to us completing our tasks and getting the food cooked on time, properly and deliciously.
Overall, this team building experience was an exceptional time spent with some amazing people. I left with a new sense of respect for chefs, a better understanding of the challenges faced by those in the kitchen aiming to create tasty and nutritious meals, and made some new friends. The great thing about this program is it is something that anyone can sigh up for. This new event is actually a team building experience, similar to a ropes course or a bonding outing for co-workers, teams, groups, etc.
"This innovative, hands-on program encourages groups to be actively engaged in a unique team building experience disguised as a culinary competition. Executive teams, command cadres, destination groups or any party that wants to take its organization to the next, higher performance level will find the culinary experience motivating and satisfying," Kapiolani CC staff said.
After our meals were created, we sat down and ate the fruits of our labor together, the master chefs and instructors also gave us feedback and critiques, meanwhile we also thought about what we learned, how we worked as a team and what we gained from the experience. I highly recommend this activity for those seeking a creative, innovative and challenging yet fun opportunity to utilize your skills, embrace your inner obstacles and of course dine on homemade culinary gems.
For more information - check out this link: https://continuinged.kapiolani.hawaii.edu/culinarium/
Traveling is in my blood... my mom was an international flight attendant and from a young age I was hitting the slopes in the Pacific Northwest, skipping along the beaches in New York, screaming at leeches in Vermont, skiing the mountains in New Zealand and so much more. As an adult I've trekked through Thailand, drank bubbly in Champagne, France and climbed the Sydney Harbour Bridge amongst many other memorable adventures. On a recent trip to Havana, Cuba I thought to jot down some interesting and easy travel tips for those who would like to save money, ease stress and maximize your vacation.