Barbie Ritzco lived her life with courage and with a passion for helping women cope with the effects of breast cancer. Sadly, that life ended last month.
Before her death, her close friend and Flat & Fabulous Facebook support group co-founder Sara Bartosiewicz-Hamilton wrote this moving piece about their experiences with breast cancer and their determination to empower women living with double mastectomies.
This is their story.
By SARA BARTOSIEWICZ-HAMILTON
Eight years ago, I learned I had a gene mutation that significantly increased my risk of developing cancer. Breast and ovarian are two of the cancers I am at a higher risk for, so with the support of my doctor and my family, I chose to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and complete hysterectomy/oophorectomy. I had my breasts, uterus and ovaries removed to lower the risks as much as I possibly could.
I was only 29 at the time, but I wanted to stop the cycle of cancer…and, thankfully, so far so good.
After my mastectomy, I struggled with my body. I had reconstructive surgery, but I was never truly able to embrace the mounds on my chest. Over time, I started to feel discomfort, and, over more time, I started to feel pain and even got sick. I started to consider having my implants removed. I didn’t want to deal with the every day pains of implants, and I didn’t want to pretend I had boobs.
Finally, on 12/12/12, I had extraction surgery and my life truly started over. My discomfort was gone. I started looking at myself differently in the mirror. I felt better about myself than I had in years.
But I realised there’s a whole host of challenges living without breasts in a boob-obsessed world. I realized I didn’t have many people to talk to about my new life. Some of my friends had hurt me by not supporting my decision, and others simply couldn’t understand what I was going through. Not even other women with mastectomies could relate since it seemed like everyone was living with reconstruction.
There was one incredible woman, though, who I was able to turn to. I met Barbie through the SCAR Project, an empowering photography series about breast cancer that shows women’s bodies after surgery. Barbie had chosen to be flat after her mastectomy and was a source of inspiration and encouragement for me.