Alright Ladies and Gents…My very first guest blog post comin’ at ya!
A little introduction for you -My guest blogger today is my husband.
Joshua Alleman – 5’9” 175lbs and blonde? Maybe…hmm I can’t remember.
He is currently in flight school with the USCG for Helicopters. He has a bachelor’s degree in Aeronautical and Astronautical Engineering from THE Ohio State University (cough* O-H …no one cares). He spent some time at AgustaWestland Helicopters in the great city of Philadelphia, before ripping my city living dreams away from me and bringing us to our current location of Pensacola Florida. Fingers crossed for him that our next billet is a city…he’d really like me to shut the fuck up.
In his spare time he enjoys long walks on the beach and changing my ABD pads. He loves our dog Jackson more than me, but I understand..it’s mutual. Without further ado, welcome Joshua and his reflections on this crazy BRCA journey thus far!
The Husband’s Point of View on my BRCA and Preventative Bilateral Mastectomy Journey
This is a blog post takeover. A digital hijacking, squawk 7500 (pilot humor, lol. Sorry, the jokes only get worse from here).
Mackenzie has humbly asked for me, her husband, to share my infinite wisdom with her blogosphere… Ok actually I begged her to let me be a part of this. It’s pretty freaking cool that she’s connecting with so many people on such a deeply personal journey. And somehow I convinced her I might be able to add to that. I guess I’ve convinced her of greater ridiculousness. So here we go; a different voice, a shorter vocabulary, and the insights of Josh.
The hardest part of this journey with BRCA and breast cancer has been the raw emotion. I certainly don’t handle my emotions constructively, and I’d consider myself the worst at helping other people with theirs. So how am I supposed to be there for my wife? What am I supposed to say? Did they have a class for this in college?
Mackenzie’s story, while very much her own, is closely linked to her mother’s. As I’m sure you all know her mom ultimately lost a hard fought, 5 year battle with breast cancer. And for me that is where it starts. My memory is not sharp, but I will forever remember many details of watching Melissa pass away. In her childhood bedroom, Mackenzie sat with her mom in bed, as her dad, brother and I stood there silently. Mackenzie was holding hands with her and snuggled close to her side, her head on her mom’s shoulder. Not just mother and daughter, but best friends. It was the absolute hardest thing I’ve ever watched. Hospice was there, and told us it would happen at any moment now. Then, we could see it, and Mackenzie could feel it. In a singular moment I watched as life left a body, and a heart completely ripped out of another.
Every day for months I thought and tried to do whatever I could to help mend this shattered person. We had only been married for 3 months at this point. I had no clue what to do. Anything I suggested was a terrible idea, I didn’t understand what she was going through, nobody did. Why did cancer happen to her family? They didn’t deserve this, no smokers, very limited drinking, only a couple Oreos here and there. It even looked like she had beaten the god damn disease only a year ago! Nothing made sense, there was no explanation, no control.
For months, and then years, there was a range of emotion. I saw many different people in my wife. Sometimes that person was logical, other times consumed with emotion. I preferred when I could simply hold her as she wept, but tried to understand when she needed a punching bag. And many times I didn’t respond well. Most of the time I didn’t know what to say, and couldn’t say much. It was frustrating for both of us. I would think, “Well now you’re making it worse. Just say something comforting. Say anything at all!” I’d say the wrong thing sometimes. A bad thing sometimes. Even just a couple days ago I managed to repeat that mistake.
About two years went by and Mackenzie finally got the results of her own test back. Despite multiple doctors saying there was no way she would have this gene mutation, despite hopes and prayers it wouldn’t be that, well… you all know the results.
“How the fuck are we going to deal with this?”
Life just got real again. Married 2 and a half years and now this? We are on a roll.
This past year has been most of the old emotions, combined with a fresh, new, salt-in-the-wound rawness. But I’ve learned there is a major difference between BRCA and cancer.
Control. And because of it, empowerment.
This simple, efficient genetic test gave us options. Real, proactive options. She’s not sick, we can take decisive action to prevent that. We have a great shot at beating this before she has to go through any chemo or radiation therapy. We can deal with this while she’s young and healthy, when her body will bounce back from this massive surgery.
I’ve had the pleasure of explaining what BRCA is to several people now. I tell them the options that were presented to us, increased screenings, a chemoprevention drug, or prophylactic mastectomy. Roughly half of the time, maybe a little less, I get this reaction, “That’s kind of extreme isn’t it? I mean, she’s not going to definitely get cancer right?”
Here’s my analogy I’ve worked up. You have a time bomb in your living room. Some bomb squad technician says, “Well, there’s about a 10% chance it won’t go off at all. So we could just leave it alone for now.” Hell no, get that shit out of my house, right now.
I am so thankful that Mackenzie made that decision. Even though she already had done her research and had her mind made up before she got the results back, it is not an easy one to make. What doesn’t work in my analogy is that she had to remove a piece of her. A piece of her that helps define her as a woman. I told her immediately and several times since that it doesn’t matter what physical attributes she has or doesn’t have, I will always love her and be attracted to her. But that doesn’t make her comfortable in her own skin. There’s at least one thing I would never be able to willingly chop off and still feel like a man.
But the important aspect is that she got to make the decision. She got to control the narrative instead of simply react to it. There is real power.
Through this process, she has turned herself into a new person. She’s no longer helpless, she isn’t taking “no” for an answer. When doctors or insurance tried to stand in her way, I saw a new found tenacity. She’s going to find out how to do things her way. I like this new person. She’s HOT!!!
I know she’s already said it, but I’ll repeat. This has given her purpose. This blog, her social channels, all of you reading this, have helped her. It’s been therapeutic, because so many of you are sharing her journey with her. So many of our friends and family have done more for us than I ever wanted to ask of them, and you don’t know how grateful I am.
And Breasties, you all are some badass women! I am so thankful that she has been able to connect with so many of you. You are helping carry each other’s load, and I am beyond impressed with how compassionate and active you all are. From the bottom of my heart, thank you.
Lastly, thank you science. Thank you to all of the hardworking doctors and researchers, whose drive and compassion gave us this control. It truly has made all of the difference for both of us, has treated her body and our minds. We are in a better place emotionally, and in our marriage, because we were given the opportunity to take control.
Mackenzie is finally healing emotionally. There will always be pain from losing her mom. But control over this gene has given her more control over that loss too. She has learned more about cancer and about herself. She has learned how to stack the deck, and she’s learned how to manage all types of pain.
Last week we had our friends over and their dog. They are getting some professional help training their 1-year-old puppy who is turning into a fantastic dog. Part of that professional training is the use of a shock collar. They are able to keep the setting extremely low, less than 15%, and proved that you can barely feel it when holding it in your palm (even when my palm was nervously sweating). Then we started having fun by turning up the voltage, there may have been a couple beverages consumed. Mackenzie took a max load, I wimped out on less than half of what she could handle. She said that level of pain is practically identical to the shooting nerve pains she gets. Holy shit. My wife can totally kick my ass. She’s WAY tougher than me.
That is her transformation. That’s what she has done. Even typing it now, I can’t believe how impressive she is. She has literally picked herself up off the bathroom floor and has turned into an unstoppable force. No person, no gene, no nothing can stop her. She has taken control.
I’m not going to try to use her clever “i hear its sunnier… with a cheesesteak” type quip. So I’m ending on my new favorite joke.
What’s the difference between a lobster with implants and an old bus stop?
One’s a busty crustacean; the other’s a crusty bus station.
I’ll see myself out…