Photography: Joe Carrotta
Looking at the upcoming Fashion Week schedules piling up on my desk, it feels strange knowing that for the first time in 25 years, I will miss the excitement, creativity, and energy of the shows, which have always served as a reminder of why I love this industry. I won’t be attending Fashion Week. Instead, I’ll be watching from the sidelines at home, recovering from a preventive double mastectomy.
As an editor, I’m used to expressing myself in words, but now I’m having a difficult time finding the right things to say. I’ve been confronting my emotions and keep asking myself the same few questions. Am I scared? Yes. Am I relieved? Yes. Am I making the right choice? Absolutely.
One of the hardest parts of the journey leading up to the surgery has been putting on a brave face and staying present, pretending that everything is totally normal. I don’t want my boys to be afraid or my husband to be more worried than he already is. I’ve been suiting up every day, heading to the Hearst Tower—business as usual.
My battle of the boobs began in 2015. Because of a family history, I decided to get genetic testing to check for mutations to the BRCA genes (BRCA1 and BRCA2), which increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer. To my surprise, I received an envelope containing the results, stating that I did in fact have a mutation and was at high risk for breast cancer.
It was a mutation to the BARD1 gene, which interacts with the BRCA1 gene. Doctors think it increases cancer risk, but there isn’t enough data to know by how much. Even though I had amazing genetic counseling and many supportive doctors, there has been no clear direction as to what I should do. So, for three-plus years, I’ve been closely monitored, getting regular mammograms and breast checks. Throughout this time, I’ve had numerous biopsies, two lumpectomies, and countless follow-ups. I’ve been marked up, poked, pricked, and turned upside down (literally!). None of the results were terrible, but there were signs—radial scars, a cluster of microcalcifications, the presence of precancerous cells—which could serve as premonitions for what might happen.
This January we did more tests, and after studying the results, my doctors and I decided that I should have a preventive double mastectomy. I was living in a loop of testing, every day waking up thinking: Is today the day I will get cancer? I no longer wanted to have these scary thoughts, and I knew the only way they would stop was to schedule the surgery. The answer was clear.
Surprisingly, the days following my decision were the darkest. It wasn’t until then that I realized how lonely and overwhelming the past few months had been. There were only a few people I spoke with about this. I worried about my kids, how to tell everyone at work, and the prospect of being out of the office during one of the most hectic times of the year. I didn’t know how people would react, and I feared I would look weak.
A friend of mine, a well-respected writer, had a preventive mastectomy and went public about it. I reached out to her, and she immediately texted back a hilarious and comforting missive. “So sorry you have to endure this upcoming TEMPORARY Hades, but I will be your tits fairy! You WILL get through this and you’ll actually discover lots of new things—new shows, books, and people who demonstrate they are your truest friends. I had the same instinct to be private but ultimately needed to lean on my friends and am so glad I told people because they want to help.” She then went on to list all the practicalities, from the best pillow to the most comfortable bra to the seatbelt pad that I’d need to install in my car. I burst out laughing. And then I cried.
Shortly after sharing my story with my friend, I called another friend who’d had a mastectomy. And then another, and another, who gave me the number of her friend. I realized I’d entered an incredible community of strong women who had been through this and wanted to help, share their stories, and support me. For the first time in years, a dark cloud lifted, and I felt a sense of relief and clarity about my choice. I am so incredibly grateful for these amazing women who have given me the strength and guidance to take this head on and fight!
So here I am. Still scared. Still not looking forward to what I’m sure will be a pain-in-the-ass (or boob) surgery. But I am so deeply grateful. I’m grateful that science and technology make early detection possible (I urge all who are able to get the genetic testing to do so). I’m grateful for my wonderful team of doctors who have kept a very close eye on me through these past few years. I’m grateful for the sisterhood of women who have been so open and supportive. I’m grateful for my boys, my husband, and my amazing family. And I’m grateful for my dear friends, colleagues, and team at ELLE.
I realize I’m incredibly privileged to be where I am today. I have options and insurance and access to the best medical care. My heart is heavy for the millions of other women out there who are not as lucky. Who do not have insurance or the means to get tested, or who don’t have access to the latest technology. As an immigrant, I’m also hyperaware that there are women around the world who have no access to mammograms and are unnecessarily dying of breast cancer.
In all this, I have learned that you have to pass it forward, be there for people, be open about your life. I ultimately decided to write this in hopes that my story might serve as comfort to at least one woman out there who is going through something similar. For that woman, I want you to know that you are not alone. And while I may be having a hard time feeling brave at this very minute, I know that my sisters will be waiting for me on the other side, ready to put me back together again.