Read the story of Jennah, breast cancer previvor
“I expected to have all my surgeries done in a few months, and soon I would have a flat stomach and these nice new boobs. Here I am, still with these uncomfortable expanders on my chest.”
My name is Jennah, I grew up in a small town in northern California and I moved to San Jose for college. I got my art degree, became an interior designer and opened a store back home with my business partner where we sold furniture and interior design.
In 2014, just a couple months after my wedding, my mom got diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My grandma had died from ovarian cancer that same year, so it was a crazy year. After my mom got diagnosed, we found out that it was from the BRCA gene- but we had no idea what that was or anything about it.
When my mom first found out that she had the BRCA gene, she wanted me to get tested and I was like “I’m fine and healthy, nothing is wrong with me, I don’t get why I need to go through all these tests and stuff”. But when I started learning more about the gene and how it can ‘predict’ your chances of getting a breast cancer or ovarian cancer diagnosis, I realized that by having this information I could actually do something about it instead of sitting around and waiting to get cancer. For the first few years, while my mom was going through treatment, I started doing screenings. I would get a breast MRI once a year, a mammogram six months after that, and an ultrasound and a blood test every six months to check on my ovaries.
Pretty much every single time I had a test done, they called back to say that they saw something and needed to get more images. The anxiety was very stressful, and after watching my mom suffer for years from this horrible disease, I realized I didn’t want to do that. When my mom passed away in 2018, I was ready to have my ovaries taken out, and to have a preventative mastectomy.
One more surgery
I’ve been married since 2014, so about six years. My husband and I have never really wanted kids. We have lots of friends with kids, but we realized after the first couple years of marriage that in our hearts we didn’t feel it was really something that we wanted to do. And so we made the decision that I have the preventative surgery, to not have to stress about a cancer diagnosis.
I had my mastectomy in January, and I had reconstruction right away so they put in the temporary expanders at the same time as my breasts were removed. These expanders are some kind of plastic bags that they place under the muscle and skin. They then slowly fill these expanders with fluid, which I had to go back for every week, to stretch the muscle and skin. Once I got to the size that I was comfortable with they were going to set up the exchange surgery, which is the process of taking the expanders out and putting permanent silicone implants in. But then COVID happened, and my exchange surgery got delayed. I’ve been waiting for pretty much all of April, May and June, and then for July and August because my doctor was on medical leave, with these uncomfortable things in my chest.
Finally, my surgery is less than a week away. I’m so excited to complete the process that I’ve been going through for months. I’ll have my expanders removed, I’ll have my ovaries and fallopian tubes out and my plastic surgeon will take the fat from my stomach and put it around my implants to make them look more natural. I’m having all three things done at once, which is good because then I only have to recover once more. I figured I’m already going to be sore, let’s just do it all now.
I have actually never considered NOT getting a reconstruction. And the reason why is that I didn’t want anybody to know. I live in a small town, I thought people were going to make fun of me or be like “She just did that to get new boobs” or something like that. But once I started looking online for other women like me, that were going through the same thing, the light bulb went on. I realized I should help girls by sharing my experience, because here I was searching for women online myself. They were brave enough to share their story and help me with it. Everybody in my hometown knowing, and showing my boobs to the internet… it was scary, but since I’ve done it I feel like it was the right move.
I’ve had tons of women reach out to me just because of Instagram, asking my advice, and it’s been so empowering to help them. I don’t feel like I’m anybody special or anything like that, but it feels good to be able to help other women.
My motto in life is to stay positive, because I’ve been through some really hard times. My treatment was nothing compared to watching my mom die from ovarian cancer, that was so much harder to go through. Just stay positive and keep going because there is light at the end of the tunnel, and the hurt will eventually be over. My husband and my dad were amazing support, my husband took the first week off work to just be there for me for everything. And thankfully so; I couldn’t even open the microwave, I had no strength at all. But emotionally, my mom was obviously my biggest inspiration. She reminded me why I was doing this, and my dad too because he had gone through this whole thing with my mom. I didn’t want my dad and my husband to have to go through that (again) with me. Both my husband and dad were there for me for whatever I needed, just unconditional love, and that’s what you have to have. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Some comments are kind of frustrating, even though they don’t mean any harm. “Cool, you got a free boob job” or, when I tell them about the fat grafting: “You’re so lucky, I wish I could do that”. Of course I am excited about the fat grafting, but it’s just one perk out of all the negatives. I went through a lot; I did that to save my life!
There is definitely not enough awareness for BRCA. I mean, I had no idea what it was. I want to make it my mission to have more people get tested. I’ve found so many more women online that have breast cancer, and some of them are younger than me, some are my age, it’s devastating and it’s scary. It can happen at any time and at any age, I don’t think people realize how bad it is.
Looking back, I probably should have researched my options more. I just completely trusted my surgeons and what they suggested to do. I follow women online now that do all the research and I wonder if I should have done that. There are women that I’ve met through social media that have decided to go flat; I never even considered that, and I still don’t think I would have gone flat if I did, but it has made me realize that there are a lot more options for reconstruction that I didn’t think about.
A lot of negative things have happened in the last four years; my mom being diagnosed and passing away, and then right after that my mastectomy. And I didn’t expect to have these uncomfortable expanders for so long. I expected to have all my surgeries done in a few months, and soon I would have a flat stomach and these nice new boobs. Here I am, still with these hard rocks on my chest. But I’m hoping that with my softer, more comfortable new boobs I will feel sexy again, and all of this has changed me in a good way too; I cherish every minute, I’m thankful that I’m here and that I can do what I want each day. I’m thankful that my husband can support us while I work on myself a little bit more, and on my health and fitness. I have realized that life is short, and not to waste it doing stuff you don’t want to do. Not just for women going through a similar thing, everyone should do that.
Running for your life
Dr. Bram Bakker is a psychiatrist, a writer, a runner and a provocateur. With his many bestselling books and columns – and yes, even his own theatre show – he urges us to think outside the box when it comes to our mental health. Not crazy about popping pills? Bram shared some interesting alternatives with me, from throwing out our phones to running ‘till we puke’.
Peas & peppers instead of pills
General practitioner Tamara de Weijer believes that we would feel a lot better if we hit the produce stand before we visited the pharmacy. “On a massive scale, we have been putting the wrong kind of fuel in our bodies.”
Singles Day – You’ve Got this!
All the single ladies, listen up! With single women rapidly becoming the majority, it is high time to stop feeling singled out. This Singles Day, let’s celebrate our freedom and independence by sharing all those solo milestones that make us go: ‘You’ve got this!’.
As soon as I held my newborn daughter Zilver in my arms, I realized that I had been given a hugely important task: to give her wings. So, I raised her using the exact same motto with which I design all my lingerie: dare to dream, dare to grow, dare to be. And I never stopped using my own wings to fly, traveling the world to make my dreams come true. Because I believed that being ‘more than a mother’ was the best way to teach by example. But what did Zilver think of having a mother with wanderlust?