Excision Numero Uno

When I last wrote, I was waiting for the pathology results from the two skin biopsies I had because of 2 suspicious looking moles (I have an increased risk for melanoma because of my BRCA2 mutation and my mom’s history of melanoma). The results came back and both moles were severely atypical/pre-melanoma. I was very relieved they weren’t melanoma, but a bit surprised that both of them were pre-melanoma. My dermatologist explained they would both have to be excised (removed) in two separate procedures.

I had the first excision this morning, which was the site on my left hip. When the surgeon showed me the area he was going to remove – it was a bigger are than I had expected – but he explained that if the pathology comes back as melanoma (which is very unlikely) – they will have excised enough that I don’t have to get anything additional removed. That was a relief to me! Also, I made sure antibiotics were being prescribed (they were) because my breast surgeon had told me any time I have any procedure – even a dental procedure – I need to be on antibiotics. After a mastectomy, the highest reason for capsular contracture is infection.

The surgeon put on some relaxing music and began numbing me with burning needles aka lidocaine – if any of you have experienced the burn of lidocaine, you understand what I’m talking about. The actual excision wasn’t bad bc of the magic numbing lidocaine – but it did feel really strange to feel the pressure and pulling of all the stitches – but not be in pain. I actually felt a bit queasy because of how odd the sensation was.

He finished up and Adam (right by my side as always – best hubby ever) took a picture to show me, and I was really impressed with how good it looked. This mole was right below a huge ass star tattoo that I have (yay first year of college on Haight St in San Francisco), and I was thinking a huge corner chunk of the star would be gone, but the surgeon removed it in a way that now it just kinda looks like one of the edges is crooked – or as Adam says, “looks like a star fish.” I have a bunch of stitches – 2 layers of them – but it is the internal kind so it doesn’t look bad at all. I’m actually really lucky that the mole was below the tattoo so I was able to see it. So if you have tattoos, make sure to take a close look for moles underneath and get annual skin checks at the dermatologist.

It’s gonna be sore while I’m healing since it is in a spot that moves a lot whenever I move up and down – so I’m taking it easy per the doctor’s orders, and switching off between binge watching Dash Dolls while taking pain killers. Adam’s literally a saint for enduring hours of this show.

I’ll keep everyone posted about the pathology results and when I get the next site removed. Here are pictures of the before and after, so click if you wanna see! The pic on the left is the marker site of what they were going to remove (the red stuff is iodine, not blood) and the right is the final result w my starfish 🙂

Practice What You Preach

I’m all about advocacy, and knowledge being power, but lately – I haven’t done the best job of taking my own advice when it comes to my risk for skin cancer. Even though breast and ovarian cancer are the two biggies when it comes to BRCA risks, there are other cancer risks that come with the BRCA mutation as well. Specifically, there is an increased skin cancer risk with the BRCA2 mutation, which is the one I have.

My mom (also a BRCA2 carrier), was diagnosed with malignant melanoma in 2008 (it’s now gone, woohoo), which also makes my melanoma risk higher. I’m usually good about going to the dermatologist for skin and ocular melanoma checks every 6-12 months, which is the recommendation for BRCA2 carriers. I wear face and body sunscreen every day, and makeup containing SPF. I basically stalked Sephora and Shiseido when my favorite foundation suddenly lost its SPF factor on the label (still figuring out that mystery).

The last time I went in for a skin check was over a year ago, in July 2014, before my prophylactic mastectomy. Between mastectomy complications, recovery, reconstructive surgery, finishing nursing school and becoming a nurse – I didn’t practice what I preached – I went over a year without going to the dermatologist. Luckily, my observant hubby noticed a mole that suddenly looked different. He urged me to see the dermatologist and I kept saying “I will, I will. As soon as [insert excuse here] is finished I’ll make an appointment.” I kept delaying making an appointment and he kept asking me to make one. He even ratted me out to my mom who also got on the bandwagon. Flash forward to a few weeks ago, when I went to a 2 day oncology nursing course. We had a section on skin cancer and that put me in check to make a dermatologist appointment.

I had my appointment yesterday and my dermatologist asked if there was anything of concern to me, and I pointed out the mole. To give you some context, the dermatology office has bookmarks they give out that have the ABCDE‘s of melanoma, and my mole definitely fit most of the categories. My dermatologist agreed that she was concerned about the mole, and biopsied it, along with one on my back that she’s not as concerned about. I liked the doctor a lot, she’s a straight shooter and gave me all the information I needed, in case the mole is melanoma. So now I’m a bit sore from the biopsies, and a bit freaked out waiting for my results – which take 10 days to get back. I’m trying to think positive, because the results could totally come back that everything is a-ok, but it could also be melanoma, so I’m just hoping for the best but being realistic about all the possibilities.

If it’s melanoma, I most likely caught it early enough (knock on wood) that all they’d need to do is an excision to remove it, and that’s it. Of course that specific treatment doesn’t always remove everything, so testing/procedures could be necessary. Inpatient, quick, and pretty easy. So, as a reminder to all my readers, make sure to go to all your doctor’s appointments!

If you have a BRCA2 mutation or family history of skin cancer, get those annual skin checks. If you notice a mole that changes or fits the ABCDE criteria, get it checked out!

Please send good vibes about the biopsy results and I’ll keep everyone posted as soon as I hear back!

National Previvor Day

Today is National Previvor Day! The CDC defines a previvor as “someone at increased risk for developing cancer, but who has not yet developed it.” I’m a proud previvor because of my BRCA2 mutation. Even though I decided to have a prophylactic mastectomy, that’s my personal choice and it’s not the right choice for everyone. Knowledge is power and getting tested for the BRCA mutation doesn’t mean that you need to have surgery if you test positive. Surveillance is just as important and strict surveillance is a great choice too. If you have any red flags that indicate a possible BRCA or any other hereditary cancer mutation, please consider getting a genetic test.

  • Check out 8 red flags that might indicate a possible BRCA mutation here
  • You can also take Pink Lotus Breast Center’s quiz to find out your hereditary cancer risk here
  • If you want to get tested for the BRCA/hereditary cancer mutation, you can find a genetic counselor here

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Angelina Jolie Pitt is My Hero

I was diagnosed with my BRCA2 mutation in 2007, at the young age of 23. I was prompted to get tested because of my family history of ovarian and breast cancers. My grandmother, who I was very very close with, passed from ovarian cancer. When I tried explaining what BRCA was, people were very confused. When I talked about the possibility of having my ovaries removed when I was 40, I got some strange and judgemental looks.

Even sitting in the mammography waiting room, waiting for the radiologist to take a second look at some suspicious images, the mammogram technician proclaimed in front of all in the waiting room, “Why are you here? You are so young?!” When I vulnerably explained the BRCA mutation, sitting there in an uncomfortable robe, she said “I don’t know what that is.” I fought with insurance companies with every mammogram, breast MRI, pelvic ultrasound, and CA-125 test. It wasn’t exactly how I wanted to spend my time in my early 20s, but I knew it was worth it.

Then, in May of 2013, everything changed. Angelina Jolie bravely announced she had undergone a preventative mastectomy due to her BRCA1 mutation. Suddenly, when I told someone about my BRCA mutation, they said “Oh! The Angelina gene!” One of the world’s biggest movie stars had made it possible for me to speak openly about my BRCA mutation. Even the decision to have my preventative mastectomy at age 30 was made in part due to Angelina Jolie Pitt’s decision. My breast surgeon, Dr. Kristi Funk, was the same surgeon that Angelina used, and her blog posting about Angelina’s experience made the idea of surgery less daunting to me. Angelina’s braveness to speak about her journey also encouraged me to start Funky Genes. I wanted to be open about my journey so that non-movie stars know what their resources were and that they have just as much a part in their health decisions as anyone else.

Now, Angelina published a new, brave op-ed, about having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed after some suspicious labwork. I have known that I would get my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed at age 40 since my BRCA2 diagnosis. Hopefully, Angelina’s announcement will bring much needed attention to ovarian cancer research.

As a public health professional and soon-to-be nurse, I have seen the impact that Angelina’s openness has had on the general public. I absolutely love her message, which I say often on this blog – knowledge is power! Participating in your own health decisions is so important. I also love how supportive her husband is in her health decisions, something I am lucky enough to also experience. Angelina Jolie Pitt really is my hero and I hope one day to meet her and to tell her in person. If I’m not able to, I hope she somehow can read this post and know how much she has positively affected my life, and so many others.

Great Article!

Many people don’t realize that you can’t breastfeed after a double mastectomy. When I decided to have a preventive mastectomy, one of the hardest aspects was knowing I wouldn’t be able to breastfeed. I know that many women can’t breastfeed for a variety of reasons, or choose not to, and that there is nothing wrong with formula – but it still was a big decision to make. But, since my BRCA2 mutation breast cancer risk would have been especially dangerous during pregnancy, the decision to have the preventative mastectomy before ever getting pregnant made a lot of sense to me.

This article in the Washington Post really spoke to me. Please take a few minutes to read it, it is a great educational piece and will hopefully make people a little more sensitive about just assuming everyone can/wants to breastfeed.