by Samantha Paige
I missed half of my senior year of college for a thyroidectomy and radiation after a sudden thyroid cancer diagnosis weeks after my 21st birthday. I spent the following decade in and out of hospitals for follow-up testing, chronic migraines and PTSD-related anxiety, depression and panic attacks. At some point during that period, I tested BRCA1+ and was then overwhelmed by the ongoing MRIs and mammograms, thereafter imposed, because of my genetic mutation, prior cancer and my mom’s own (gratefully successful) bout with breast cancer in her early thirties. Eleven years ago, I elected to have a preventive double mastectomy and reconstruction shortly after my daughter was born. In light of my new role as a mother, I desired to mitigate as much risk as possible. My nerves could not handle the constant pressures, fears and testing around another possible cancer diagnosis.
I had contemplated the prophylactic decision for years and, in discussing what that would look like, reconstruction with silicone implants was the only option I remembered being presented with any great emphasis. No reconstruction never came up as a viable alternative. I asked questions about using body fat instead of silicone, but did not push the discussion too far when met with replies about my lack of ample body fat. Someone close to me at the time encouraged the implants, so as to “look normal” for my daughter and to “go as big as possible” since the opportunity was presenting itself. I ended up with arguably perfect, gorgeous and quite large reconstructed breasts, but was never comfortable in my body.
Almost four years ago, I had explant surgery. I had not felt well for years and hoped the explant would help, which it did. I did not feel connected to my implanted chest. It always felt foreign to me. The most important aspect of my decision to remove my implants was not a gallant act of bravery, nor a rejection of boobs, foobs or anything in between, but an act of self-love and self-honoring. A moment of personal truth. I have spent the last years of my life making consistent (within myself) the inconsistencies of decisions made along the way. I left my marriage, closed my business, ended a cycle of betrayal and edited so many other internal and external areas of my life that had contributed to my lack of physical and emotional wellbeing. I have taken the time to assess what was no longer working and lived the consequences of much heartache and liberation in the process.
My implants were another place within myself, literally and figuratively, where I knew I had said “yes” when I should have said “no.” I have no regrets. I simply had not cleared enough of the interfering noise to hear my own opinions about my emotions, life and body, or yet know how to stand up for those truths. In removing my implants I was making another “last cut,” or significant decision that brought me closer to my personal truth, as I call them in my new book, LAST CUT, and multi-media documentary project, Last Cut Project. LAST CUT features my words, images by photographer Lisa Field and wisdom about their pivotal last cut moments from my Last Cut Conversations podcast guests, including artist Zoë Buckman, professional athletes Ronny Turiaf and Annie Hawkins, activist Pidgeon Pagonis and author Mallika Chopra. This book highlights the power of finding clarity around what is most true for each of us and how we live that individual truth in our lives. I outline 7 universal steps of making a last cut, no matter the magnitude, beginning with disconnect, moving through phases of questioning, commitment, connection and trust, and ending with embodiment and freedom. There is great personal strength in practicing this congruent way of thinking and decision-making on an ongoing basis. Then, even when we are overwhelmed, scared or rushed, which can especially feel the case with a genetic mutation or disease diagnosis, we are in the habit of internal dialogue that leads to connected and authentic personal decision-making.
My explant became a powerful illustrative metaphor in my life, my book and amongst the Last Cut Project community that speaks to the continuous flow of decisions we all face in life. We always have the opportunity to act on behalf of our truest self. Each person can look within to find direction and answers about their own body and lives. I have found that the same last cut framework I apply to big life decisions, like my explant, is the one I use with ongoing choices, such as what I eat, whom I spend time with and where I use my energy. The more I practice making smaller decisions that feel authentic to who I am, the more gracefully I am able to approach the bigger ones that have notable weight, tighter timelines or more stress. A lasting commitment to this way of being has helped me fashion and live a life that feels like a reflection of who I am and who I want to be. The key to the whole process of working towards creating greater alignment and freedom that builds over time is practice. We train ourselves to make authentic and aligned decisions by asking ourselves honest, pointed questions and listening to the answers. I have noticed that I continue to get to know myself better and to discover and explore the ways I can support myself and others in being ourselves in all our unique glory. The last cut process is never over and is rarely easy. Its framework serves as a reminder that there is a universal arc to the human experience of learning and growing. Does this mean every choice comes easy at this point? Hardly. Does this process ever end? Absolutely not. Does this mean I have all the answers. Not even close. Is it worth it? Without question.
Samantha Paige is an artist and mother with a passion for life. She created Last Cut Project in 2016, a multi-media documentary project about those big life decisions- last cuts- we make to bring us closer to truly living for ourselves. As a young adult cancer survivor and BRCA1 previvor, Samantha has learned to use life experiences as fuel. Her health challenges have been her greatest teachers. After 6 major surgeries and some lovely scars to show for it, she is happy to feel stronger and healthier than ever. Samantha was featured in Equinox’s 2017 Commit to Something campaign, baring her mastectomy scars, and more recently in The Nightside, a documentary film to empower and educate on the BRCA gene. Samantha’s first book, LAST CUT, is available now. Last Cut Project has recently launched a storytelling platform to share stories and amplify the voices behind them. If you have a story to share, Last Cut Project would love to hear from you!brca, FORCE, genetic testing, hereditary cancer