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Mom Talk: One Week Away From A Double Mastectomy

Written by Emily McMeekin

Photography by Emily McMeekin

Today’s “Mom Talk” is not the first time we’ve explored the dreaded BRCA-2 gene, which makes one much more likely to develop breast cancer and ovarian cancer. (You can read Portland-based Megan Radich’s story from 2020 here). And while no two journeys are the same, what they do have in common is the intense mix of emotions that hover over the decision to undergo a double mastectomy in order to significantly lower one’s cancer risk. Below, Montana-based mother of two Emily McMeekin shares her intimate thoughts, just one week before her life-altering operation.  

I was supposed to write a book. Instead I’m doing the same thing I was doing a year ago and slathering Everyday Oil all over my breasts. I, like everyone else, love the smell. But my specific hope here is that when my surgeon slices my breasts off next week—she has an easier time.  

I don’t have breast cancer. But I have the BRCA-2 geeeeeeeene! It’s always been a hovering fear long before I did the spit test nearly a decade ago. Hovering in the way that evil family history surely does. Decades of alcoholism in the family, check. Maternal grandmother diagnosed with breast cancer in the 1960s, check. Mom with breast cancer in 2002, check. So here I am—an artist wife mama greeting my upcoming 40th birthday with a great, nasty fear of good alcohol and big, bad breast cancer.  

So I’ve chosen to remove the acreage. Prophylactic double mastectomy set for March 12. In the middle of COVID. Smack dab in the middle of my children’s childhood. In the middle of my oh so good marriage. Perhaps in the middle of my sexual peak? We shall see. It’s all so beyond good you see, I just don’t want to miss it. Miss the fast-growing tumors that are bound to show up. Miss the first stage. Sail into the third. I don’t want to die young.  

And so I slather. I slather on the oil everyday. I continue to daydream about the cover of my book, titled Motorboat, obviously. I wanted to pull the reader through my last year with tits. The ups and downs, the fears…but really, like most of my readers I’m assuming, I just didn’t have enough time.  

I have three extraordinarily beautiful kids, including an immeasurably challenging middle daughter who is both marvelous and downright feral. My sons, flanking her by two-ish years each, are old souls and calm waters, while her seas are choppy and  demanding. I miss her the second she goes to bed obviously, such is the brilliance of her light. Theirs too. The lot of them. Even the husband. Even down to his floppy new haircut (cheers to these middle years of risk and adventure!). He is marvelous and grand and as always too good to be true—it’s all just so damn fun. I don’t want to miss a thing. And so I slather.  

Then my dear friend texts that her mama who underwent mastectomy surgery on Tuesday (today is Thursday) needed help wiping. WIPING HER BOTTOM. And now I’m googling recovery on mastectomies and WHY THE HELL didn’t anyone tell me this?! I’ve had three home births, two quite fast on a bathroom floor—but at 39-years-old, my husband wiping me while I’m unable to move my arms, it all seems a bit much. 

So my chest heaves in a sob and my face crumples into tears as it has done every day this week as I look forward. And so I slather. Thinking that somehow this little bit of  love on these little wisps of leftover breasts, 9 years and 2 months of either pregnant or nursing, will make them somehow recognizable before they are gone. I referred to them recently as “folds of paper,” my sweet, soft laps of origami soon lost to this most extreme form of self-care.  

I should buy vats of this goodness really. Will the surgeon thank me for the ease in which her knife cuts? And my scars, will they be extraordinary too? Will I still feel like me? Will my sweet husband reach for them and recoil? Will my two-year-old try to nuzzle and will I yelp in pain, in fear that his sweet, curved cheek will hurt me when he tries to fall asleep on my chest as he has done for nearly all of his nights on earth? How many weeks will it take to feel like me? When will I stop asking questions? When will the fear of cancer’s looming arrival go the other direction? Up to me. I hear you. I’ll just be in here slathering for one more week.

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