'Get these off me now': Sam got a double mastectomy months after … – Stuff

Aucklander Samantha Bluemel, 32, is three weeks recovered from a double mastectomy – a procedure that for many would be a daunting, likely terrifying experience.
For Bluemel, though, the feeling is more one of relief. And her mum, Michelle O’Neill, who died in October, would be “so happy”.
At 26, Bluemel had been diagnosed with the BRCA1 gene mutation. It was a diagnosis that significantly increased her risk of breast cancer, and she had made the decision that when she turned 30 she would have a mastectomy.
After all, she had watched her mother go through cancer treatment multiple times over the years.
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O’Neill’s first diagnosis had come when Bluemel was just 12. Her younger brother was 7 at the time and her sister was 1. The cancer had been treatable, and Bluemel remembers her mother as being “so strong” and positive throughout treatment.
“She battled through it with what seemed like such ease,” says Bluemel.
But the fourth and final diagnosis, which came in February 2020, was different. This time, O’Neill’s diagnosis was terminal.
Bluemel, then 29, came home from Britain in March that year, moved in with her mum in 2021, and quit her job as a sales manager to take care of her earlier in 2022. O’Neill died in October this year.
“With the previous experiences of Mum’s cancer there wasn’t grief attached,” says Bluemel.
“[This time] there was no hope, so we were grieving with mum while she was still here. That was incredibly hard. It was really, really awful.”
And after Mum died, Bluemel remembers feeling so broken she felt like “this should be on the news”, but the world continued around her as if everything was normal.
“It’s so strange. Your whole world is shattering and people are doing their normal day around you.”
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Just two months on, Bluemel pauses for a moment when asked what she would want the world to know about her mum.
“She was just the most loved mum,” she says through tears.
“She was just the best mum. We all loved her so much that this part is so painful because of how much we loved her. She was amazing.”
Now, Bluemel has made the first steps towards preventing the same thing happening to her. And she knows it is a decision that would make her mother “so happy”.
“When she got her terminal diagnosis, she kept going on about me getting it done while she was still there,” Bluemel says, guessing it was so O’Neill would know her daughter would be OK.
“I had to keep saying to her, I’m looking after you now. I’m going to have to wait, but you’ll have to trust me that I’ll do it.”
Bluemel publicly posted about her surgery on social media because she wanted to be open about the process for friends and family that may have questions or be faced with similar situations.
“If you’re … facing that decision yourself and see someone whose been through it say, hey its actually OK, and it’s not as scary as it might seem, and it’s actually a really positive thing because it could save your life … I think that’s worth sharing.”
As for the surgery, Bluemel was grateful she managed to get booked in so quickly after her mum died.
“I kinda wanted this year to hold all the hard stuff, so next year I could have a fresh approach.”
She is healing well. The procedure itself removed the breast tissue and inserted the implants in the same operation. She had discomfort for about a week due to drains that needed to be kept in and uncomfortable bandaging.
Sfter seeing what her mum went through, she was ready and prepared for the surgery. “It was more like, get these off me now”.
“I’ve removed a really significant risk from my life and I feel fantastic about that.”
Bluemel will need to take the time to get used to a part of her body being “something completely different that’s not me”. She also hopes to have children, and while she “obviously can’t breastfeed” she says there are ways around that.
The journey is also not quite over for Bluemel. The BRCA1 mutation also increases the risk of ovarian cancer, and so she will be having her ovaries removed when she turns 40. Although she believes that will be slightly less intimidating because she has about eight years to get used to the idea, and it is internal, and can’t be seen from the outside.
Bluemel is healing well and looking ahead to the future.
“For me, I look at it and go, I’m so grateful I have this information. And I’m so grateful the medicine exists to help me avoid getting cancer [especially given the family history]. It feels a little bit curse-breakery.”
“My only wish is that Mum could have done the same thing.”
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