Brave and Beautiful

Posted in News

A picture is worth a thousand words…..that’s how the saying goes.

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Sometimes the picture isn’t exactly what we imagine, or how we hoped.  My super sister Elle has had a big year and her journey hasn’t played out as she imagined, nor how she deserved.  You might remember from my earlier blog, Elle had her own prophylactic bilateral mastectomy earlier this year and she did it tough!

If a picture is worth a thousand words, this picture says it all……

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OUCH!  Elle had trouble with one of her flaps, which despite all efforts, all prayers, all hopes, wishes and desires, didn’t recover and eventually the infection took over.  With multiple surgeries and skin grafts, Elle eventually lost half of her reconstructed breast.

Elle is brave and beautiful and when I asked her to share a photo of her breast today, she sent me this image….

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Elle shared this picture and I think it was actually the very first time she has taken a photo since it healed.  It made her teary, it evoked emotion and I am incredibly proud that Elle has allowed me to share it here today.  Elle has been recovering well, taking care of her body, getting back into the swing of life and showing incredible bravery along the way.

For the strangers who follow the page, the blog or stumble across it accidentally, I remind you that we share very openly and honestly here.  If the images are offensive or disturbing in any way, we don’t apologise, we don’t pretty them up, we don’t beautify reality and we share to support other women and men travelling along a similar path.  This is what Elle looks like today…..

Elle is brave and beautiful!  Most importantly, Elle has gone from being 85% likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in her lifetime, to probably never EVER needing to consider that diagnosis.  I remember my doctor sharing with me that I’m around 1% likely to be diagnosed since my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, which are stats that our family absolutely LOVE.

Tomorrow Elle goes back in hospital and is undergoing surgery to reconstruct her missing breast.  The medical team will insert an implant to round out Elle’s previously reconstructed breast, which was originally made using the fat and muscle from her abdomen.  I am writing this blog to remind Elle how truly awesome, brave and beautiful she is!!!

I borrowed this awesome quote from our gorgeous cousin Jodie who recently shared it.

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It’s another major surgery tomorrow for Elle and we are all sending love and hugs her way. Coincidentally, another friend of mine is undergoing her own reconstruction tomorrow too, having had both breasts removed earlier this year due to a cancer diagnosis.

Regardless of what their reconstructions look like, they are both brave and beautiful inside and out and I wish them a speedy recovery and can’t wait to hug them both again.

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My Smiling for Smiddy Challenge Ride Reflection – 12 months later, better late than never!!!

Posted in News

Time really does fly! It was exactly 12 months ago today that I was packing and preparing to take on a seemingly impossible challenge, joining 49 other cyclists to embark on a journey from Brisbane to Townsville to raise money for cancer research in the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge Ride.

Here’s some essentials I packed…..

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Townsville is 1600km’s from Brisbane! 1600km’s over 8 days on our bikes!! Sounds crazy right? Here’s where we travelled…..

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The team at Smiling for Smiddy is seasoned and polished when it comes to coordinating such an event. There’s nothing the support crew can’t do. Whether it’s a gentle smile to send you on your way, or an embracing hug when you don’t even realise you need it most, they are wholly committed to the team with an unconditional bond of friendship and love. Even 12 months on from my own participation in the Challenge ride, I still feel blessed to know such incredible people.

Support Crew

In just 8 days of cycling, it is impossible to describe the wave of emotions experienced during that time. For me personally, I have not even been able to (or taken the time to really) sit for a moment and reflect on what I experienced until now, the eve of the next wave of cyclists taking this incredible journey. As a previous Challenge rider, I’m wondering how to describe it, how to explain it, how to send my wishes to my friends going this year and to complete strangers who are about to leave themselves.

My kids described it best for me….

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In a single week of my life, I can honestly say that I never felt anything else like it.

  • Happiness and sadness
  • Connection and isolation
  • Accomplishment and self-doubt
  • Love and emotional pain
  • Body strength and severe indescribable pain (who can forget the mind-over-matter blog?)

The emotional and physical scars I have from the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride will be with me forever. This quote sums it up best for me…..

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Would I take it all back? Never!

Would I do it again? Who knows?

Would I recommend others to do it? Hell YES!!!!

The Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride changed my life. I still can’t perfectly pin point what that really even means, but it changed my life and I wouldn’t have it any other way. A special memory for me is that I got to spend 8 days solid with this amazing friend, Hannah Hogan, whose unconditional support helped me through some of my darkest moments. For those taking the journey this year, friendship will be your secret weapon through the tough times.

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I also spent hours upon hours looking at the photo in honour of Adam Smiddy stuck onto my bike. When it hurt, I looked at Adam and knew that my pain was nothing in comparison to him losing his life to cancer.   The memory of Adam and the presence of his parents David and Maria leading the support crew, ensured a level of mental strength you don’t even realise is possible. At the end of each of the 8 days, I thought about my emotions throughout the day, then I stuck a little emoticon sticker on my bike to help me through the next day. The photo of Adam and those stickers are all still on my bike 12 months later!!

Adam Smiddy

This year is made even more challenging with the absence of the beautiful Maria Smiddy. Maria is one of those people in life you just can’t find words worthy of describing her. Maria sadly lost her own battle with cancer earlier this year and it still breaks my heart to fathom what the incredible Smiddy family has endured. I simply have no words and can only honour Maria by smiling each time I think of her.  Every time I see this beautiful and treasured photo of us together with her husband David the night we finished riding in 2014, it warms my heart – it remains my Facebook profile picture to this very day.

Maria & David

I wasn’t really looking my best, as I had literally just shaved my long head of hair to raise just that little bit more money for cancer research.   I can thank this guy for that….

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Zane is another one of those special people you meet along this journey. Zane is riding in the Challenge again this year and I have no doubt he will be one of the nucleus members of the group. He’s fit, he’s fast and he’s actually trained for the ride this year too, having come in as a late participant last year not long after losing his own father to cancer.

It just breaks my heart that so many of us have stories of cancer taking loved ones away from us prematurely. It’s one of the reasons it drives our little family to continue raising money for cancer research beyond events like the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride.  Our kids love wearing their own Smiddy gear around to show their support!

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In the past 2 months we have two beautiful friends each be diagnosed with breast cancer. One friend has just had her bilateral mastectomy and our other friend is scheduled to have her bilateral mastectomy in 2 weeks time – exactly 12 months after I had my own breast reconstruction.  Both women will then fight a battle with this disease and I know they’ll both win. Their stories make me even more motivated to continue volunteering my time and energy to raise money for cancer research via our World’s Biggest Garage Sale.  With support from our invaluable and incredible volunteers, we are proud to have raised a combined total of $75,000 in our 2013 and 2014 events and we are looking forward to a record breaking 2015 event.

I can’t help but think that the timing of our exciting news today about the 5000 sqm warehouse space being donated to host our 2015 World’s Biggest Garage Sale in 6 weeks time was absolutely perfect. It has happened exactly 12 months after I took my own Challenge journey and on the eve of the next wave of riders leaving for theirs. Stay tuned for more exciting news about this space!!

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As the 2015 riders leave tomorrow, I know in my heart that they will each travel a unique journey in their lives, which will forever remain with them as one of the most significant and memorable eternally.  Every day spent on the road with new friends, strangely feels like a whole regular year of time.  8 days quickly feels like 8 years of a very unique bond.

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Hair grows back, sore butts subside and even the scars will eventually heal, but the look on the face of your family when you return from something magical like the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride, is truly priceless.

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Smiddy, Smiddy, Smiddy

Strength after Surgery

Posted in News

I realised yesterday that 2 years ago to this very day I came out of hospital after having shoulder surgery, which was required after I was hit by a car on my bike and very nearly killed.  Someone saved my life that day and if it wasn’t for a fellow triathlete calling out to warn me, things could be very different.  I am forever grateful for her ability to spot the car turning illegally.

Since my shoulder surgery and in unrelated incidents, I broke a bone in my foot, had a bilateral mastectomy and finally a full breast reconstruction.  It’s been 2 years of surgery – recovery, surgery – recovery, surgery – recovery, surgery and recovery.

It’s been a busy 2 years health wise for me.

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Today I finished an 8 week challenge at Kosama Fitness, Fortitude Valley and I am celebrating my strength after surgery, actually, I’m celebrating my strength after surgery 4 times over.

It has been a real battle for me to get through this challenge.  Physically, I have aimed to be strong and fast, each challenge has required both of these elements.   It hasn’t been easy and for someone who gets a little anxious about times, nervous about performance and isn’t a fan of public posting of numbers on a whiteboard, it has been tough.  Thankfully, the energy in the gym, the positive vibes and support from fellow challengers, and the unconditional motivation from the Kosama trainers, has absolutely made the journey possible.  For me though, this challenge has been as much of a mental battle as it has a physical one. Finding strength after surgery hasn’t been smooth sailing.

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I realised after we were a few weeks into the challenge, that I have really struggled emotionally this past 12 months.  It’s almost exactly a year since I rode my bike (along with 49 other cyclists) from Brisbane to Townsville.  If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you would remember the incredibly personal story I shared of my struggle with this ride.  It hurt!!  It hurt a LOT!!  Physically (my legs and cycling ability to make the distance) I was OK, yes there were up and down days, but mentally it was a different story.  I battled each and every single day, fighting the indescribable pain of a torn up bum from severe chaffing, which started on DAY 1 and got progressively worse for the 8 day journey.  It felt like this…..truly, like sitting on razor blades for 10-12 hours a day.  I spent the first 5-6 hours of every single day working to trick my mind into overcoming the excruciating pain of sitting on open wounds all day long.

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I wrote about it in my Mind over Matter blog (click on the link if you’re game – but beware of the butt images) and after sharing the blog, which included some graphic images and a conversation I had with someone I thought was my ‘friend’, I have barely written any blogs since.  In fact, I went from writing almost weekly, to writing just 5 articles in the past 12 months, 2 of those inspired and dedicated to my beautiful sister.

I feel disappointed in myself for letting the bully win!!

This guy literally said that “he felt my blog was written for attention, that I’m not about the ‘cancer cause’, that what I share makes people uncomfortable and it’s not appropriate to share on the internet to the world”.  He also said that I wasn’t invited to share my story in this forum and that he doesn’t like it.  Presumably he was offended by the pictures, the nudity, the openness, the honesty, he didn’t like it and I began to feel like he was making sure that he could ‘take me down’ to others behind my back like a teenage boy.

These two images below were reported on Facebook, which thankfully never got removed, because Facebook is mature enough to know that mastectomy images are not considered pornographic.

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The magnets have since been removed and I now have ‘normal’ implants, rather than tissue expanders – so there’s no more magnet party tricks!!

You see, he did this to others in the 5 years I called him my ‘friend’.  He had this knack of bringing people down with his strong opinion and in his leadership role he had the power and influence to steer even my thoughts and opinions about people that I didn’t really know.  He wasn’t right at all, I now know that, the people I love know that, the tens of thousands of readers who visit my blogs each month know that – so why did I stop writing?

Previvor quote

I’m not sure I can answer that question right now, other than saying that I let the bully win and I am here now today making a comeback.  I am committed to sharing my journey, it’s been inspiring to others and I am proud to have helped many women travelling the same road.  I know there are thousands more who are contemplating their own surgery and I am standing up to my bully and no longer going to let him stop me from letting my light shine.

One of my favourite quotes is this one…..

Dr Suess

The Kosama Fitness 8 week challenge has reminded me that ‘What you believe, you achieve’.  It has reminded me of the value of true friendship.  It has inspired me to start being less judgmental of myself and more appreciative of what my body and my mind is capable of.  It has reminded me that people are good and it has given me the chance to redirect my thoughts to a more positive light.  What I LOVE most about the challenge is that it helped me see through the dark cloud which I’ve let cover my light this past 12 months.  I have admired my fellow 8 week challengers and their individual strengths, whether physical, emotional, mental or spiritual. I seriously love the energy I have been able to experience while being surrounded by such amazing people this past 8 weeks!!  I found this quote on the Kosama Fitness Facebook page and I think it sums it up perfectly…..

Kosama Quote

I made a mistake and believed that others felt the same way as the bully, I let it crush me, I let it stop me from being who I really am and I suffered from some serious self doubt in all areas of my life.  It has impacted my friendships and my relationships and most importantly it has impacted me.

I’ve graduated today from an 8 week strength challenge and who would have thought that the end result wouldn’t really be about the speed, the numbers or the improvements along the way.  It has been far more enjoyable to learn that the challenge has been a journey of re-discovering myself and being comfortable with who I am.  I am strong and I am proud of myself for all of the amazing things I contribute to life!! This is my new motto……..

Strong Thoughts

When I started this blog back in late 2013, I described myself in the About Me page and just as I stated then, I’ve always said that “I’m not for everyone” – well it’s true and I am NOT for my bully and I’m not letting him crush me any more!!

Thank you to the whole team (trainers and members inclusive) at Kosama for helping me break through!!

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My super sister is doing it tough; her rough ride to recovery is far from pretty…….

Posted in News

Sometimes in life, things go perfectly to plan.

(WARNING: Some may find images in this blog disturbing)

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I look back at my own personal journey with my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and am grateful for the smooth ride.  You see, everything – and I mean EVERYTHING went exactly how I expected it to.   Get fit – check!  Surgery – check!  Recovery – check!  Return to normal range of movement – check!  Then repeat for the reconstruction stage of my surgery 6 months later – check!  Check, check, check!!  I look back and realise what a dream run it was, even with the unexpected broken foot 10 days prior to my mastectomy, then the little ‘mishap’ during my recovery.  After re-reading the two blog post links myself, I realise just how lucky I was to not stumble really along the way.

Yas Quote

Let me tell you this though…..My super sister is doing it tough!

I would trade my own personal dream run right now if it meant that my super sister Elle could have the same experience.   Elle’s surgery was in March, almost a year to the day after mine.  For the past 8 weeks though, Elle has been doing it tough!  Yesterday Elle went in for yet another surgery, her 4th operation in just 8 weeks and her road to recovery has been anything less than ideal.  The Dr’s are happy with the overall outcome of Elle’s initial surgery, her breasts were removed completely (via her nipples, which like me, she chose to not retain).  Elle’s breasts were then reconstructed out of her own body via the Tram-Flap procedure, which basically means they took fat and muscle from Elle’s abdomen to reconstruct her breasts.  As you can see from the image below, other than the blemish on her right breast, Elle’s shape, size and natural looking reconstructed breasts are pretty much PERFECT!  They look and feel (yes, she let me touch them) perfectly real.

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This is where the ‘dream run’ ended for Elle.

Elle’s a tough cookie, she’s the middle sister in our family, which immediately means that she can take pretty much anything and remain strong and determined.  I still wish I could turn back time to our childhood and reverse some of the nasty ‘big sister’ treatment she endured from me.  Elle is kind, caring and probably one of the most generous people I know.  She would give her time (and last dollar) to help others, even if it mean sacrificing herself along the way.  It’s just not fair that she is now suffering so much with her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy recovery.  The ‘blemish’ on her right breast deteriorated and isn’t a blemish at all, nor is it bruising, Elle was suffering from necrosis, which effectively means her cells were dying.

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My unconditional sisterly love may not help Elle recover.  My prayers, hopes and wishes to take away her pain and suffering don’t seem to be working, so I have resorted to writing this blog to share some of Elle’s journey.  It hasn’t been easy, Elle and her ‘childhood sweetheart’ Ben have 3 fantastic children who are surely doing it tough right now too. We’re a close family and her kids (the two boys and the gorgeous little blondie on the right of the image) are absolutely fantastic!  For 8 weeks now they’ve had to watch their usually active and involved mummy suffer and it is surely taking a toll on them too.

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Spare a thought today in your busy life to send Elle and her family some love, thoughts and prayers.  Elle’s going to be in bed for the next few days, recovering from her latest surgery – she’s had yet another skin graft from her leg in the hope to save her reconstructed breast.   While it’s too early to know what Elle’s breast looks like after this particular operation, take a look at the final image in the collage below.  While not likely to win any awards for the prettiest image in the world, it’s raw, it’s real and it’s an honest and open account of what Elle has been through.  The open and incredibly ‘sore’ and raw wound is what the last skin graft looked like after it was complete.

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It’s not pretty and it’s not fun and my super sister Elle deserves a break and she deserves it now.  Please send your positive thoughts her way today.  Everyone choosing to take the journey to proactively remove their breasts needs to know this…..

Things might not always go to plan, but ultimately the end goal is to cheat a disease responsible for taking so many lives prematurely.  Elle has cheated breast cancer and we are all incredibly grateful for that, but my super sister deserves a break from her troubled recovery starting today!!

Thank you for your love and support.

xxxx

Customer Service WOW!!! Lululemon Rocks!

Posted in News

Those that know me best are well aware of my love for customer service.  To give it, to receive it, to live it and breathe it, it is my passion, what drives me and recently I have learnt that customer service is my ‘Native Genius’.

I absolutely love customer service, I seek it out, I am loyal to those that give it and while incredibly rare these days, I am truly blown away when I receive it.

Well do I have a story for you!!!

My friend Jess, the same friend who took the beautiful ‘before’ images of me prior to my bilateral mastectomy (you can read her beautiful blog here), recently showed off a pair of new lululemon workout pants at the gym.  They looked amazing on her and she said that they were the most comfortable pants she’s ever trained in.  I have to admit, I have never owned any lululemon items, so when Jess spoke so highly of these new tights, I thought I’d better check them out.

So on the eve of Mother’s Day, off I went to the lululemon James St store, I had already justified to myself that I could spend some money guilt free as a Mother’s Day gift to myself.  Afterall, I wear gym tights EVERY day, sometimes I even wear two pairs in a day.

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When I walked into the lululemon store in James St, I was immediately a little surprised to be welcomed by a man.  It was relatively quiet, with about 45 mins until close for the day. He introduced himself to me, Cam was his name and Cam then directed me towards the pants that Jess owned.  A big thank you to Jess for the picture she sent me of the tag from her pants.

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Cam and I discussed colours, he showed me the various options and I explained to Cam that I prefer darker colours to avoid that ‘crotch sweat patch’.  I’m a sweater, a big sweater, I sweat as much as most men do and while it’s not something that bothers me, I am conscious of the fact that I look like I have pee’d my pants when I train.  I was really testing his customer service!!

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I’m certain that by this stage Cam must have thought that I was amongst his most ‘weird’ customers.  I mean seriously, why would a customer talk openly about crotch sweat? What had Cam got himself into?  We picked out a few tops to try on with the pants and Cam directed me to the change rooms. I loved the fact that my name was written on the whiteboard on the change room door and I proceeded to try on the pants, along with a few tops to match.  I spent a bit of time mulling over the options and I was instantly in love with the pants.  What a great recommendation from Jess, I was SOLD!!

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I went in and out of a change room a few more times, trying on a couple more colours in the pants I loved and I had already justified to myself that I was going to buy two pairs.  I sought out a top to match, and once again Cam offered his expertise and advice on some of the lululemon options.  Cam pointed out a few sheer tops, the ones which would normally be perfect for high sweaters, they’re light and designed perfectly for people like me.  The only problem for me is the ‘sheer’ thing!  You see, I explained to Cam that I couldn’t wear sheer tops due to my recent bilateral mastectomy, I typically don’t wear crop tops when I train and therefore I need to make sure that the tops I wear aren’t see-through.  Poor Cam, he must now be thinking that I am some kind of nutter!!

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By now I had tried on a few tops, decided 100% on the black pants and then tossed up in my mind as to whether I would buy the grey or navy pants as my second option.  I looked at the clock, it was closing time and I was undecided.  So I went to the counter, explained to Cam that I wasn’t yet decided on the second pair and that I’d be taking the black pair today.  I was definitely going to come back another time to choose my second colour and I would also grab myself a top at the same time.  I had enjoyed my very first lululemon experience and looking forward to returning.

Cam continued to engage in conversation with me and casually asked me which of the two colours (navy or grey) was I most leaning towards.  It was a great question and made me think about it, as I explained to Cam that I think I’d go for the grey ones to step outside of my navy and black comfort zone.  Cam was engaging and his customer service had me looking forward to returning again.  I love their slogans on the bags, I love their customer service, I love their comfortable clothing and I wear training gear more than I do regular clothes – so it’s easy to justify a return visit.

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He excused himself and stepped away for a few moments, returning with the grey pants from my messy change room floor.  He then said to me “this is what I love about my job, I get to give you these pants”.  What?  I must have stood there in shock for a few moments, before saying “SERIOUSLY, you’re going to GIVE me the pants?”.  The look on Cam’s face said it all!!  He ripped the tag off the grey pants and he explained that this is his favourite part of working for lululemon.  He was GIVING me the extra pair of pants as a gift.

I was blown away! Speechless! Shocked! I said “NO WAY, are you for real?”

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He was for real and Cam was as happy giving me the pants as I was to receive them.  I couldn’t believe it!!  WOW!  Before I was the lucky recipient of Cam’s random act of kindness, I was already a new loyal lululemon customer, but after receiving his outstanding customer service, Cam has guaranteed it for life.

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In life there are many kinds of people, there are those that go quietly about their business, inspiring people from behind the scenes, then there’s those who prefer to shout it from the rooftop.  The world has a place for all of us, we’re all unique with our own style and my style is definitely to ensure everyone I know (and even those I don’t know) is made aware of this amazing “Raving Fans” customer service experience.

Life’s too short to not celebrate moments like this.  I am celebrating by wearing my new lululemon pants today, despite the fact that I don’t plan to go out and train.  I am wearing them in honour of Cam in the lululemon James St store and I am excited to share this amazing and outstanding experience with as many people as I can.

One thing is for sure, I’ll be back to buy myself some more lululemon clothes, I plan to spend some more time in store next time and I’ll be sharing my customer service WOW experience many times over for decades to come.  I even managed a selfie with Cam before I left – he was simply AMAZING!!

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WOW, WOW, WOWEE!!  I still can’t believe I was the lucky recipient of a random act of kindness, receiving a pair of lululemon pants for FREE from a complete stranger.  It was unexpected, totally out of the blue and literally the most amazing customer service experience I have ever had in my life.

Like it or not, I plan to tell the world!!

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My Super Sister

Posted in News

It’s been a while since I have written a new blog post and if I’m to be completely honest, I’ve been a little scared.  Scared and scarred both in about equal amounts. I’ll elaborate more on that at another time.

Most importantly, I’m writing again because tomorrow is the day one of my younger sisters is undergoing her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.  Elle (a truly Super Sister) is 18 months younger than me, she’s a brilliant mother, a wife to Ben (they are childhood sweethearts) and she’s been a loyal follower of this blog since it started in January last year.  I owe it to Elle to start writing again, especially given she is one of the BIG reasons behind me starting it all in the first place. Elle is the super cute blonde one on the right in this photo…..

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As her older sister, I always wanted to ‘be there’ for Elle, so I’m hoping that in some small way, sharing my blog has helped Elle reach this day – the eve of her own surgery.  I know she loves this photo of us all dressed the same, they were our most favourite dresses.  Elle (the middle sister) is in the middle below….

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Elle has always going out of her way for anyone and everyone!  She is the sort of person who would give away her last dollar or her last meal, Elle is the first to put up her hand if you need something and she is forever helping other busy parents when they need a helping hand.  Tomorrow is a BIG day for Elle and I’m excited for her to finally be here.

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Elle doesn’t know I’m writing this blog tonight about her, so I won’t share anything too personal without her permission.  One thing I will share is how proud I am of Elle.  You see, Elle bravely stripped off for me a year ago to reveal her breasts in a family portrait style photo I posted in an earlier blog.  I had this crazy idea to help me when I was nervous about posting my own breasts on the blog and I somehow managed to convince all of the girls in the family to share a photo of their breasts with me for the family portrait.  Check the photo out below…..

Family collage

Statistically, 5 or 6 of the 7 women pictured here are likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime.  With my breasts gone and Elle’s about to go, we are both beating the odds and cheating an almost certain future breast cancer diagnosis.

Tomorrow as Elle undergoes her 8+ hour surgery, we will all be thinking about her and hoping for a smooth and trouble free process.  Elle’s surgery is more complicated than mine, with her having the TRAM Flap procedure.  The TRAM Flap, or Transverse Rectus Abdominous Myocutaneous flap: is a type of reconstructive surgery where fat and muscle from the abdomen are used to recreate breast tissue.

The main advantages of a TRAM flap include:

  • One-stage reconstruction to re-create the breast to its full volume
  • Utilises your own natural tissues
  • Permanent and long lasting reconstruction – does not require change or replacement compared to implants
  • Looks and feels natural
  • Moves and age with your body
  • Provides best symmetry with a natural breast on the other side

Although the operating time and recovery period is longer than my original surgery, it is a one-stage reconstruction that gives an instant permanent result with your own natural tissue.

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I’ll be thinking of Elle tonight and all day tomorrow and sending her all the pain-free vibes I can muster.

She’s an amazing woman and deserves a trouble free, pain free speedy recovery.  We all love you to the moon and back Elle, can’t wait to support you through your journey.  xxxx

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New boobs!! 5 things you didn’t know about reconstructed breasts….

Posted in News

When I celebrated my 1 month anniversary of my new boobs this week, I thought long and hard about what to share with my family, friends and supporters.

  • Do I write about the process?
  • Do I share details about the surgical procedure?
  • Would I freak people out sharing so openly about everything I’ve gone through?

That last point was my attempt at being funny!  If you’ve read any of my previous stories and you’re still here reading this now, you are not easily ‘freaked out’.

I mean seriously!  Even after 6 months of treatment, almost a year of writing this blog and decades of being an open, honest and upfront about pretty much anything and everything person, there’s always going to be someone out there who is freaked out by this image!!

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So, after a few days of pondering, I decided to once again just be honest, raw, open and to not worry at all about how the information I share might be loved, hated or otherwise!!

Having a breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is a completely different process to having what’s commonly referred to as a ‘boob job’.  The end result is much the same, with what was once my breast area, now being a perky, firm and symmetrical looking bust-line of a 20 year old.

Before you start imagining me walking around with a set of hooters that resemble something like this:

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This is definitely not me!!

To the untrained eye, you wouldn’t even notice anything different when looking at me clothed and given I make a habit of dressing myself daily, the new boobs are not noticeable at all – just the way I like it

So what’s different then?  I share with you 5 things you might not know about reconstructed breasts, the kind of reconstruction post bilateral mastectomy:

1. I can’t feel a thing!

That’s right!  My new boobs have absolutely NO feeling in them whatsoever. You could poke them, prod them, rub them, even stick a pin into them and I wouldn’t feel any sensation at all.  What I do feel is the sweat dripping between them in the cleavage area, although I use the term ‘cleavage’ very loosely.

2. I can flex them!

I know, I know – I’ve shared this before in my reference to The Rock and his ‘peck pop of love’.  When I had the tissue expanders in, I could flex my pecks in a strange party trick I shared with some of my closest friends and family.  What I didn’t realise is that I would be able to flex my new boobs after the reconstruction.  I must admit, I don’t make a habit of this as it’s still early days and I’m a little concerned that I might accidentally move the implant!

PS.  The lefty is the more frequent flexer!!

3. I massage my new boobs 6 times per day – Dr’s Orders!

After my post op appointment with the Doc, I was shown how to correctly massage my new boobs and advised to do it 6 times per day.  So if you happen to be someone I live with, work with, or socialise with, please accept this as a medical requirement, not just an odd habit I have.

I was sitting at my desk in the office this week fondling my new boobs.  It thankfully wasn’t noticed by anyone, and while I’m relieved I didn’t have to explain myself, I’m making it official ‘medical business’ by sharing it here today.  I certainly don’t make a habit of doing it in public, so please if you do see me groping at my new  boobs, please just give me a nudge.

4. They really don’t move!

I often wondered whether it was necessary to wear a bra, crop top or other support garment after a breast reconstruction and the answer is a definite NO! I can only speak from my own experience here, and my new boobs aren’t enormous, nor even really noticeable,  but I can 100% confirm that there’s no need for me to wear any bra or support under my clothes.  Medically for the next 8 weeks I do need to continue wearing a firm crop top, which helps the healing process and reduces unnecessary swelling, but other than that, I’m free to let them free!!

5. No nipples has its perks!!

When I had my bilateral mastectomy, I decided to opt for a full ‘non nipple sparing’ surgery, which means they take it ALL.  I’m left with no nipple, no areola, no pink bits at all and I LOVE it.  Clothes now sit nicely over my new boobs and I don’t spend any time at all lining up the nips.  It sounds silly I know, but I’m certain that I’m not the only woman who has spent time in the mirror doing the nipple check!!  Are they even?  Do they sit in the right place? What if it gets cold?  Will one nipple end up North and one end up South?

It’s a definite perk of life after a non-nipple sparing bilateral mastectomy and I’m embracing it.

So there you have it, a quick summary of life with my new boobs.

They’re a part of me now and I just get on with life, rarely even realising that I’ve had my real breasts removed.

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I have family and friends who are embarking on their own bilateral mastectomy journey, with some of them choosing the prophylactic option and others facing the challenge head on.

To all of you I say – enjoy it!  Enjoy it!!  Seriously, did I just say ‘enjoy it’?

I repeat that on purpose because it’s a strange thing to say to someone who is choosing (or otherwise) to remove a significant female body part.

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While it’s a challenge and it’s a change from your current life, it’s a new chapter, a new normal and an opportunity to experience the emotional, physical and mental roller-coaster ride of a lifetime.

I see my new boobs no differently to me having surgery on my leg and showing you my scars.  It’s nothing to be ashamed of, something to be proud of and with the right preparation, knowledge and information, you can face it head on and be a better person for it.

Check them out, they’re looking much more like boobs now!!

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Embrace it, face it and don’t disgrace it.

Speaking of embracing it.  I wanted to share a selfie of me with my younger brother Adam. We recently flew to Sydney to farewell a  much loved family member.  It was the first time I’d seen him since sharing the same haircut.

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After I shaved my head for charity a month ago, mum was probably the least happy!  She thinks of herself as having two sons now.  Me personally, I love it!  I’ve since given myself a trim to keep it tidy and really enjoy the low maintenance hairdo.  I’d recommend it to anyone!

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Mind over Matter – what does it really mean? Can the brain overcome the pain?

Posted in News

This past week I had two reasons to celebrate!!  I also went through the most emotionally challenging week of my lifetime and I have so many stories to share.

What I will say upfront is this…….

This blog is your choice to read, your choose to follow it, share it, ignore it or be involved and comment on it.  If you like it, great!  If you don’t, then instead of wasting time and energy hating something you really have no idea about, please just move on.  I share personal information about my Previvor journey, including images, video clips and internet links which are unedited and may expose my body.  What you see here is my reality and I’m proud to share it.

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Why the sudden disclaimer about the blog?

Well I was lucky enough over the weekend to have a ‘friend’ tell me their honest opinion about my blog.  I respect his honesty and really appreciated the fact that he was able to communicate how he felt.  I have to laugh though at his interpretation, because to be honest, it absolutely SHOCKED me and proved to me that he really doesn’t know me as well as I thought.  I loved this mind over matter quote and thought it was very relevant to share.

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This guy said that he felt my blog was written for attention, that I’m not about the ‘cancer cause’, that what I share makes people uncomfortable and it’s not appropriate to share on the internet to the world.  He said that I wasn’t invited to share my story in this forum and that he doesn’t like it.

What the?  My blog is written for attention?

Well he’s got that right!  I ‘expose’ myself in the hope that others out there who are afraid to ask questions might find some answers along the way.  I don’t glamourise my Previvor experience, there’s no celebrity attached to it, I am open and honest enough to share the good, the bad and the occasionally ugly side of proactively removing my breasts to avoid an almost guaranteed future cancer diagnosis.

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It made me laugh though!  But then it made me sad!  Has he completely got it wrong, or is there a general feeling out there in the world of haters, that I would willingly choose to remove my breasts, then bravely share my story to others just for attention?

Well let me tell you this…..

I am a very open and honest person, I believe in living life once and living it well and I am comfortable and confident to share my life experiences here in this forum.  It was something I was initially challenged by, because it meant opening up and exposing myself, but I am passionate about sharing my Previvor story, my life story and I do it in the hope that there’s someone out there asking the questions that I willingly answer without hesitation.

Not to mention that I’ve never made it a secret that I’m a very open and honest person. What you see is what you get, so I’m not sure why the sudden shock that I would be so ‘out there’ with my blog!

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On Saturday 6th September, it was exactly 6 months since the day I was discharged from hospital following my Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy. Time has flown past so quickly, and this is my new normal.  I was out on my bike that day, riding from Charters Towers to Townsville, what a way to celebrate my 6 month anniversary of this image.

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The second reason to celebrate happened as I finished the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride.  This ride is definitely not for the faint hearted, it’s an 8 day adventure starting in Brisbane and travelling North towards Townsville to cover 1600km’s on a bicycle.  The ride is supported by a WORLD CLASS road crew, who volunteer their time to help us survive the journey.

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I’ll definitely be sharing more stories about this adventure, so stay tuned!!  For now though, I want to break it down into shorter stories about the varying experiences I had during the challenging 8 days, but I will warn you that my stories will be raw, honest, open and at times perhaps even make you feel uncomfortable.  Please know that my intention is (and has always been) to ‘tell it how it is’, rather than pretty it up for the reader.

I was reminded during this ride about the true meaning of Mind over Matter! We’re taught this as children, occasionally reminded of it as adults and really they’re just words strung together to sound good, right?

Wrong!!

DISCLAIMER: You should stop reading now if you’re in anyway squeamish about seeing my butt cheeks!!!

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Let’s just say that by the end of Day 1, my ‘saddle’ (the polite term used to basically describe your butt and lady bits on the bike) was a little tender.  By tender I mean red, raw, open with skin removed and a hot, heated and bruised like feeling throbbing as I rode along.  It wasn’t pretty and of course I took a ‘butt selfie’ to send to my hubby to keep him updated about the ride.  I’ve faded the crotch area to make it more appropriate to share, but this is what it looked like on Day 1.  If you have issues with the images, I’d suggest you stop reading now, because I do share more further in this blog.

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By Day 2, the swelling and redness was so severe, I really should have taken a break from riding, but instead I pushed on and decided to go into some sort of state of deep self talk, where I would convince myself for the first few hours on the bike that I was able to overcome the pain with mental strength.

Mind over matter!!  I found myself trying anything and everything to stay focused, to stay strong, to stay on the bike.  I would sing to myself, sometimes groan, moan, shuffle on the seat, stand up for relief, move around from left to right or just half sit on the seat and try to take the weight of my body into my legs.  I won’t lie, I was fighting a mental battle harder than I’ve ever fought anything else in my entire life.

The pain I was feeling can best be described with an image.  Without exaggeration, It was something along the lines of this…..

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I’ll say it again….Mind over Matter!  But the feeling may have been closer to this………

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I was in pain, severe pain, pain that made tears uncontrollably run down my cheeks.  As other riders rolled past, I would try to brave their polite ‘hello’ with a return ‘hello’, sometimes engaging in brief conversation, but in all honesty, I just wanted the pain to stop, the stinging to subside and I wanted nothing more than to be able to sit down on my seat without the stabbing pain.  I chanted ‘mind over matter’.

By Day 3 I was wearing double knicks (two pairs of cycle pants) and it didn’t help, so on Day 4 at the morning tea break I decided to try triple knicks, that’s right – THREE pairs of cycle pants!!  Believe it or not, there was some minor relief, but the stabbing, stinging, swelling, bleeding, oozing, throbbing and spreading pain didn’t go away.  What started as chaffing, quickly become open blisters, then wounds and eventually what I can only describe as a deep cavity in both of my butt cheeks.  I found myself chanting ‘You Can Do It Mum’ over and over again, for hours on end.  I must have sounded like a crazy woman!!

The image of our girls holding this sign was often the difference between me pushing through the pain barrier or giving up completely.

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Day 5 saw me start with triple knicks and I remained this way for the rest of the trip, knowing that the heat from three pairs of pants was easier to deal with than the pain of what 4 days of riding had done to my nether-regions.  It wasn’t pretty and the Day 4 butt selfie to my hubby looked something like this…..

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By Day 7 the wounds were so deep that the chamois cream, which is designed to soothe cyclists bottoms, actually burnt me for over 6 hours straight.  I felt like I was in a trance on the bike most mornings, but by mid-morning or towards lunch time either my butt would become numb, or the pain threshold adapted, I honestly don’t know which one, but whatever happened, I was able to ride stronger and more comfortably as the day went on. Day 7 was definitely the biggest challenge for me, the bruising was coming out now and the pain was indescribable.

In the end, I was in some pretty dark places, I could barely walk properly, my underwear would stick to my open wounds and cause even more pain and I needed some serious medical attention ‘down there’.  It was really tough!!

The support from some of the riders was outstanding, it honestly kept me going when I wanted to stop.  We laughed about it, we joked, we made light of a situation which could have had me sitting in the van, and I felt supported by strangers, people who I didn’t even know a week before the ride.

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I love this picture taken on what was definitely my toughest day on the bike.

By Day 8 ‘down there’ looked completely abnormal, so wrong and so bruised and battered that I almost can’t believe myself that I’m willing to share the image here in the blog.  The image below isn’t ‘R’ rated, it’s just my skin between my thigh and my groin, there’s a little ‘butt cheek’ in there, but I can assure you there are no ‘lady bits’.  There’s a couple of open ‘saddle sores’ which kindly popped around Day 7 I think, these sit very close to my ‘privates’, but thankfully they remained intact throughout the whole ride.

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The bruising, pain and agony were challenging, it was definitely an unexpected part of the ride, but with the amazing support from almost everyone on the ride, I was able to truly test the mind over matter theory.

I say ‘almost’ everyone because I did have one rider ask me bluntly at the end of the ride “did you have to complain so much about your butt”?

Well fellow rider, I am not really sure what to say, other than to be honest.  Yes I might have moaned when the roads were rough, yes I cried quietly for hours each morning when the pain was unbearable and yes I may have said the ‘F’ word a few too many times when riding over cats eyes in the shoulder of the roads!!

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I seriously doubt that many people, including the rider who felt I complained too much about my butt, would have stayed on the bike in the pain I was in.  I will never be able to explain it, but in my heart I know that I overcame challenging mental battles for 8 days straight to become a stronger person, which has changed me for the better for life.

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Of course after rolling into Townsville and cleaning myself up, I called upon a trusted friend who lives locally to ‘patch me up’.  I was so excited to see her and her family at the finish line, little did she know that she’d be helping me medically later that afternoon.  It had been years since we’ve seen each other, but she’s a Dr and married to a Paramedic, so between them they’re experts in my eyes.  We had a laugh at how hilarious it looked for me to be spread out on the floor of our hotel room, legs wide apart, while holding a conversation about friendship.

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I’m proud that I was able to fight the mental battle, to overcome the pain, to struggle through deep and dark moments and make it through when all I wanted to do was give up.  One of the road crew posted this quote on the last day and I think it summed it up for me perfectly.

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I’m not ashamed to admit that tears rolled down my cheeks when I read it.  I felt like it summed my journey up perfectly.

For anyone interested in the stats from our 8 days on the bike, here’s what we did.  You’ll need to click the image to see the numbers.  What an amazing time we had!!

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In closing, the mind over matter thing really does work.  It’s not easy, it’s mentally tough, it’s painful, dark, challenging and when your body wants to give up, challenging the mind to stay tough is one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  Even with the blood, bruising and perhaps even the risk of some permanent scars ‘down there’, it was well and truly worth it!!

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The Breast Reconstruction Process Explained

Posted in News

It’s done!

After almost 10 years of talking about it, pondering it, reading, researching and investigation, I’ve officially finished all surgeries related to preventing an almost certain future breast cancer diagnosis.  This blog explains the breast reconstruction process I’ve just undertaken.

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The process for me has been incredibly smooth, trouble free and in all honesty and at risk of making it sound like a breeze, it’s been ‘easy’ for me.  I don’t share this to annoy people, to brag or to dismiss the seriousness of what I’ve been through, but the reality is that I’ve had a trouble free journey and I’m proud to share my experience.

My PBM (Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy) surgery first involved the full removal of all breast tissue, with tissue expanders being inserted under the muscle during this procedure.  You might remember me sharing the blog called ‘The Tissue Expansion Process Explained’, where I detailed the process involved in the first stage of my surgery.

I went from having relatively ‘normal’ looking breasts (pictured below), to having absolutely nothing, no tissue, no nipples, no feeling or sensation when touched.  I was left with just two Tissue Expanders implanted under my muscle and ready for expansion.

What a visual transformation, but one that hasn’t impacted me negatively in any way at all.

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There’s a short video in that Tissue Expansion Process blog showing my foobs after the first expansion in March this year.  It was so interesting to watch that movie just now, I’m so glad that I’ve kept a record of the key milestones during this journey.  I watched the video and see a happy, confident and comfortable women and it’s wonderful to be able to look back on the process.  I’m really pleased I took a couple of minutes on the morning of my breast reconstruction surgery to shoot this short video, click the image to watch it.

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So where am I at now?  Stage 2 is officially complete!!  Stage 2, the breast reconstruction involved removing the Tissue Expanders which in my case were filled with 230ml of saline. The Tissue Expanders are designed to slowly stretch the skin to form a ‘breast’ like shape and you can pretty much expand to whatever size you like.  I chose to stick with a small size, something that doesn’t ‘stand out’ or look obviously like a ‘boob job’.

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The first step of my breast reconstruction surgery was to have the Dr draw all over my foobs, outlining the proposed shape of my new breasts.  Then before I knew it, I was being wheeled into theatre and chatting to the medical team about the crazy Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride I just finished, which was topped off with me shaving my head at the finale.

We all laughed, joked and I was out for the count.

Less than 2 hours later I was awake and in recovery, ready to head to the ward for my short hospital stay.

During the breast reconstruction surgery, the Dr removed the Tissue Expanders which I understand are discarded and then a range of ‘implants’ are used to determine the best overall shape and size.  The Dr and I had met and agreed months prior on the desired size, my preference to remain small and I learnt at this time that three (3) implants are ordered in each recommended size for the surgical procedure. Why 3 implants?  Well we’re all human, and if one is dropped or damaged, then there’s still 2 implants to insert, which makes perfect sense.

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I did query also why multiple sizes are ordered, and it’s apparently due to the different way each body adapts to the shapes and sizes.  Not every implant looks the same when inserted, so a couple of different options are on hand to ensure the best outcome is achieved during the process.  This all makes perfect sense and put me at ease knowing that I was in great hands.  So it pretty much means that if the implant doesn’t look good inside, then another option is used before everything is sewn up!

So, back to the breast reconstruction process.  Once the original scars are opened up, the Tissue Expanders removed and the best breast implant shape and size determined, everything is put into place, shifted, moved and positioned perfectly, then stitched up and strapped down under that same sticky-tape used during the mastectomy process.

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Before I knew it I was back on the ward and feeling completely ‘normal’.  I was surprised to feel so alert and alive, without any pain, no discomfort and all-in-all from what I could see over the strapping tape, my new foobs looked great.

Strangely, I haven’t been in any pain post breast reconstruction surgery, none at all!! Maybe after 8 days sitting on a bike seat for up to 12 hours a day actually rid me of any ability to feel pain, because I’ve never been to darker, deeper more painful places than I was in for the first few hours of each day on the ride.  It was like sitting on razors and I’ll be sharing a blog about that too, so stay tuned for that one!!

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Moving on from my reconstruction surgery, I’ll be required to do daily breast massage for a few months, I get to wear this sexy crop top for support all-day-every-day, including when I’m sleeping and I have the option to consider a nipple reconstruction in the future.

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What’s a nipple reconstruction?  Well, it means that I can choose to have either a nipple tattoo, or a small nipple built from my own skin, which is pinched and shaped into a hard little lump and then tattooed around to appear like a real nipple.  I’ve shared an image below of someone who has had a nipple tattoo, it looks very realistic, but I’m not sure that I’m going to bother with it to be honest.  I’m very comfortable with no nipples!

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It’s going to take a few weeks, possibly even a couple of months for everything to settle in, but for now I’m really happy with how it all looks and feels and I can’t wait to get back into the swing of things with regular exercise, some swimming, running and despite the darkness on the bike recently, even some cycling again.

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And perhaps a trip down to the beach with my nipple bikini top!  Now these nipples I can cope with!!

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I’m so grateful for the love and support from family, friends and even strangers.  It’s helped me come through what I guess is considered ‘major surgery’ with relative ease.  What an amazing journey I have had and I’ll never EVER be diagnosed with breast cancer, which is the most amazing feeling in a family like mine.

 

Fun Foob Facts

Posted in News

This week is officially my 5 months post Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy anniversary.  Whoo Hoo!!

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Now before you go out and get me some cake to celebrate, please don’t!!  I recently finished a weekend training ride from Brisbane to Warwick and then back again.  For those who aren’t local to the area, this means a total of 440km, around 21 hours of ‘saddle time’, a LOT of hills and a LOT of cake, slices, biscuits, lollies, chips, muffins, more cake and there was some fruit and other savoury treats in there too.  So definitely NO cake!!  When I’m off my sugar high, I’ll write a short blog about the amazing adventure I had.

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I thought I’d share some Fun Foob Facts from the past 5 months.  You might remember at the beginning, when I decided to take the plunge and share my journey, I created an ‘About‘ page.   Well I revisited that page before posting this blog and had a good laugh at what I wrote.  Time really does fly!!!

Here are some of the weird and wonderful facts I’ve discovered since having my bilateral mastectomy.

  • I am enjoying my first winter with no nipples.  It’s amazing how much more convenient it is to choose an outfit when you don’t have to worry about ‘highbeaming’.  While the memories and pictures are still there, I do LOVE not having nipples.  Mine were almost always like this……

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  • I can move my foobs with the flex of my peck muscle, AKA Peck Pop of Love style.  If you haven’t seen ‘The Rock’ in the short You Tube clip link, you’ve got to watch it and I dare you to do so without laughing. While I haven’t perfected the process or attempted the berry trick, I can do the peck pop and it’s funny!

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  • I cannot feel my foobs when they’re touched and sometimes I even bump them unknowingly on the corners of tables.  The skin is completely numb, except for the space between the foobs in my 4 finger wide cleavage.

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  • To touch them, they feel like hardwood under my skin, they’re SUPER firm and have a small pocket of softness on the outer edge.  When you hug me, it might feel a little strange.

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  • I willingly let people touch my foobs if they ask and I sometimes even throw the invite out for people to have a feel themselves.

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  • When I run, the sweat under my arm builds up and eventually I start to ‘foob fart’ and it sounds EXACTLY like a real fart.  Sometimes I don’t tell people that it’s my foobs and I let them think that I’m pop-farting non-stop while training!  It goes without saying that I’m going to have to get my hands on this book.

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  • I don’t wear a bra and it’s such a free feeling.  Whether I’m riding, running, in the office or just out and about, it’s rare that I wear a bra or crop top and I’m surprised at how much I enjoy not having to do so. I’ve almost been caught out a few times by removing my top and forgetting about the lack of underclothing, but I’m pretty sure that I’ve kept it all under wraps 99% of the time.

All in all, the past 5 months have been trouble free and relatively normal. Most days go by and I don’t even think about the foobs, the surgery or the fact that my body isn’t (nor will ever be) the same on the outside again.  It’s timely to remember that ‘scars aren’t ugly’ and in our family, we really don’t even notice them much these days.

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I recently said to someone that I felt that what I went through was ‘easy’. The look of horror on her face was obvious and I started to think about back-pedalling on what I said.  Then I realised that what I said is 100% true!

With the right attitude, my journey has been very easy.  I’ve had no complications, no pain, no issues and therefore I have no shame is saying it was easy.

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This is definitely one of my favourite quotes “The only disability in life is a bad attitude” – Scott Hamilton

I’m now counting down the days until I leave on the Smiling for Smiddy Challenge ride with 50 other riders.  We are leaving Brisbane on Saturday 30 August and travelling on our bicycles to Townsville, 1600km’s away.  It’s going to be an interesting and fun 8 days.  I can’t wait!!

25 days to go!!!  This is pretty much what I’ll be wearing for the next month, both out on my rides and to bed each night!!

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If you’re feeling generous, why not skip a coffee this week and donate your $5 to help raise funds for cancer research.  You can donate directly on my Everyday Hero page here:

https://smiddychallenge2014.everydayhero.com/au/yasmin-grigaliunas

Everyone can afford to skip a coffee to potentially fund a cure for cancer!

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Donate your $5 coffee today….

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