New Breasts and a New Home in Paris
Leah Walker March 5, 2015

I’ve been in Texas almost seven weeks, and frankly, I’m about to go nuts. It’s not because I don’t love my home state, but this is the longest I’ve been without travel in well over a year. Being sedentary is frustrating, but being physically limited is maddening. Since my preventative double mastectomy on January 21, my sole focus has been a speedy recovery. I’ve made work commitments and have a schedule to keep.

Inquiring minds want to know, and I’m happy to share. But if I had a dollar for every time I’ve explained the entire removal and reconstruction process, well, it’d buy me a couple of cocktails at Four Seasons George V.

To make a long story short, during the nearly eight-hour surgery, one doctor made two 10-inch incisions and removed all the breast tissue. Then the plastic surgeon placed two spacers filled with 250 CCs of saline behind my pectoral muscles, along with some kind of mesh to support the weight. Over a couple of weeks, a series of saline injections were made into these spacers, whereby slowly stretching my chest muscles. Once the desired breast size was achieved, a month was required to heal. A second surgery will be performed on March 16. During this outpatient procedure, the spacers will be traded for silicone implants.

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This was not one of my better days.

I’ll spare you the gory details. Let me just say that hydrocodone and Valium were my best friends for about three weeks. Getting in and out of bed took a Herculean effort, and the saline injections made me wish for death. My pectorals felt as if they would to rip apart, and lying lower than a 120 degree angle was impossible. Grooming habits fell by the wayside. Walking up a flight of stairs felt like a marathon, and my posture resembled an 80-year old woman with osteoporosis.

I’ve come a long way in a short time. Now there is no pain, only discomfort. Currently, I feel like two plastic bowls are lodged between my rib cage and pectorals. I can sleep at a 20-degree angle and get out of bed with no problem. The day that I could touch the top of my head with both hands was cause for celebration. However, my left shoulder feels like I pitched twenty years for the Texas Rangers. My arm and chest strength are coming back, but I won’t be doing any pushups, cartwheels, or pickle jar opening. And with one more surgery to go, my guess is that I won’t be doing these things any time soon. There’s definitely an end in sight, and I couldn’t be happier.

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Two weeks after surgery, I managed to get it together enough for a visa application photo.

In case you missed my Facebook announcement, in February I was awarded the Compétences et Talents Card, which is a three-year, renewable visa allowing me to live and work in France. This card is given to those who are likely to make “a significant contribution, through their skills or talents, to France’s economic development or to its intellectual, scientific, cultural, humanitarian or athletic prestige, back to their home country.” I’m certainly honored knowing that France believes that I have skills and talents.

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If my interviewer only knew the pain I was in…

Getting this visa was no easy task. It took multiple recommendations, a mountain of paperwork, a lengthy interview, persistence, and persuasion. It was absolutely worth the effort. Now, I can be employed in France, and I don’t have to worry about the time limitations of the Schengen Agreement. As a US citizen, I can only be in the Schengen Zone for 90 out of 180 days. After I’ve reached my 90 days, I have to leave for 90 days. Penalties for overstaying that time range from fines to being banned for up to three years. I know many people who have overstayed their 90 days and nothing has happened, however, I prefer not to tempt fate.

On March 28, I’ll board a plane bound for Paris. From April 1-8, I’ll travel throughout southern France with Viking Cruises. You may recall that I hate cruises, but I’ve never been on a river cruise, so I’m willing to give it a chance. After disembarking in Avignon, I’ll go straight to work on a special project with the country’s tourism board, Atout France, from April 8-24. Then it’s back to my beloved Paris.

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After an exhaustive, month-long search and several busted bubbles, I found an apartment in Paris. Honestly, this process was far more frustrating than getting the visa. I had a short list of non-negotiables {Wi-Fi, washing machine, a real bed, and desirable location}, but finding something I liked within my budget wasn’t easy. However, I managed to find a modern and cozy {tiny} place in the 8th arrondissement, just across from Parc Monceau. This is one of my favorite parks and the area is excellent, but I only signed a three-month lease. If I’m going to commit to a place for longer then I’d like to actually see it and the neighborhood first. Until then, this little place will do just fine.

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When I leave for Paris on March 28, it will have been exactly ten weeks since I was last in the city. During those ten weeks, much has happened—things that have changed the course of my life. I’m excited to start this new chapter in a city that I love. I don’t pretend that I have it all figured out, but I have confidence that the picture will become clear sooner rather than later. Right now, I can’t worry about any of that too much. After all, I’ve got one more surgery and a lot of packing to do.

Leah Walker

Leah's a luxury travel and food writer who has as many stories as she does shoes. She documents her experiences whether that's in the lap of luxury or riding through a swamp in an airboat. Leah freelances and has contributor/editor roles with The Daily Meal, The Daily Basics, Bonjour Paris, France Today, Luxe Beat Magazine, Four Seasons Magazine, Forbes Travel Guide, and is a travel ambassador for Atout France USA. Leah's thrilled to call Paris home after being awarded the coveted three-year Compétences & Talents visa from France, though her talents don't extend to speaking French. Yet.

61 Comments

  1. Leah,
    You are one brave young lady and a true inspiration to travelers all over the world. I am so happy for you, knowing how much you love Paris. I can’t wait to tour the magical city, with a certain fabulous tour guide. Be well. Be happy and my thoughts are with you on the final procedure.
    Mike

    1. As always, I’m grateful for your sincere words and support. I’m happy to show you around ‘my’ city. 🙂

  2. I’m so excited for you to begin this new chapter! We will celebrate when I am in Paris in May! Hopefully you will be able to toast your new life with some wine by then?

    1. Did I know you were going to be in Paris in May?!?! Yes to the wine. The answer to that question is always yes.

  3. Good for you, Leah! It must have been a tough decision, and en even tougher ordeal. No wonder they say Texans are troopers. You deserve that R&R in France, and I am still hopeful we’ll see you in Yucatán in the future! Saludos!

    1. It wasn’t a tough decision to make, but it was scary go follow through with the decision. Now that the worst part is behind me, I have huge sense of relief. Oh, and I’m pretty sure that I can be convinced to visit the Yucatán. 🙂

  4. Leah – You are brave. I want to be like you when I grow up! You are beginning a new phase in your life with joie de vivre! I was on a Southern France River Cruise with Scenic last April. It was fabulous and nothing like an ocean cruise. You will love it. We stopped in Avignon. I’m not sure if you have been there before but you will love that too. I’m going to be in Paris in late September- perhaps you can give me a tour like a local. Best wishes,

    1. I’m not sure if it’s brave or a bit crazy. Perhaps a little of both. I’m so happy to read your thoughts on river cruises. I’ve not been to any of the places my itinerary is taking me, which is exciting. And as for your time in Paris, I will be offended if I don’t hear from you.

  5. What an amazing and transformative (literally!) journey, Leah. Sending you good vibes as you continue to heal and prepare to embark on the new chapter! Also, it’s no surprise that France welcomes your skills and talents as you’ve definitely earned that visa. Congratulation!

    I’ll be in Turkey in May and June and if there is any way I make it to Paris during that time I will be looking you up! =)

    1. Your words are so kind and touching. Thank you! And I do hope you reach out if you get to Paris. It would be lovely to say hello.

  6. Leah – I am so proud of you! You have such tenacity, spirit and fight. I wish you more strength to get over this last hurdle so that you can get on with your life, you deserve it. You serve us Texans proud!

    1. Thank you, my friend. I appreciate all of your support before, during, and after this small part of my life. Sante to two travelin’ Texans. 🙂

  7. France has excellent medical care so you’ll be well placed for any after care. I love Paris but prefer living in London. I think Paris actually makes London look cheaper. In our neck of the woods we have a ton of French expats who’ve fled Hollande’s taxes. Looking forward to hearing more about your expat adventures.

    1. I haven’t looked into the price of living in London, but because of the exchange rate of the pound, London is very expensive place for me to visit. The dollar vs euro is better than it’s been in years. I almost feel like I’m stealing money!

    1. Well, I’m not sure that I ever felt ‘normal’ but hopefully I’ll be back to myself soon. And you can bet I’ll be drinking plenty of great wine. 🙂

    1. I think you can drop the question mark at the end of that sentence. I have one trip planned in June, but if I’m in town you can bet I’ll meet you at George V!

  8. What amess overwhelming couple of months it has been for you. That period in so much pain must have been enormously challenging but so pleased to hear you are more free of pain with an exciting adventure ahead of you! I remember reading your cruise article so curious to find out what you make of the river cruise – I’ve never been on either and have often wondered whether I would enjoy them or not. Wishing you a continued speedy recovery!

    1. Thank you so much. I count my blessings that I didn’t have a rougher go of things. Though, there were certainly challenges. As for the cruise, I’m looking forward to something different. I think you should give things a chance. Who knows? You may love cruises!

  9. Hi Leah, when I’m not travel blogging I make my living as a physical therapist specializing in oncology rehab-specifically breast cancer. The majority of my clients are post mastectomy and going through exactly what you’re going through. If you’re still having discomfort and or difficulty fully raising your arms both forward and sideways I’d strongly consider PT. Also the tissue expanders are the worst of it- the surgery to exchange for silicon implants is nowhere near as bad. Please feel free to ask me any questions you may have.

    1. Thank you for the advice. I’ve regained full range with my arm movement, so that’s a huge relief. And you’re right, the exchange wasn’t nearly as bad, but there’s still that recovery time. I’m just ready to be 100% again.

  10. It’s not Texas music, but it just seems right that I’m listening to Dwight Yoakam as I read this story from my favorite Texan that I’m not related to. You know this, but I’ll say it again: you are my inspiration. If not for your writing, inspiration, advice and friendship there is no way I would have started a travel blog two years ago. And without that travel blog I wouldn’t be in a new career in marketing that I believe will one day lead me to the professional opportunities that will get my family living in England in the next few years. You remind me of everything I loved about living in Texas. I wish you happiness in Paris. I know you are just doing what you feel is the right decision for you, but it is one that takes real courage and is an inspiration to others faced with similar circumstances. Much love from Memphis.

    1. I’m again blown away by your thoughts. I seriously had no idea I had that sort of impact. I just was helping out a fellow talented writer. I’m happy to see the success you’ve found, both on the www and in your new position. I do hope you finally get to England. We’ll likely see each other more often if that’s the case.

  11. Best wishes for your continued recovery! I can’t imagine how difficult the surgery, recovery and emotional challenges must have been, but it sounds like you’re doing great! Congratulations on earning the French visa and moving to Paris!

    1. Thank you, Laura. I can see an end in sight, and I’m looking forward to the future. It’s full of croissants and cafes. 🙂

  12. I have been thinking about you and am so glad that you are taking the time to recover! Your story has touched many – and your courage to move forward is inspiring. I cannot wait to follow you on your new adventures back in France.

    1. You’re so kind, Elena. I hope that others don’t have to experience what I have, but if they do, I hope I’ve given some insight into the experience.

  13. I love that you have been sharing your journey on here – ups and downs – it’s important for people to hear. I’m also glad that you’ll be getting to make a new home in Paris; I know how much you love it. Can’t wait to watch it all unfold!

    1. Thank you, Erin. Getting the struggles behind me will open up all sorts of wonderful things in the future. I’m sure of it.

  14. Thank you for sharing stories of not just your travels, but also of your life with your readers. I look up to you every time I read a new blog post and I am so happy for your move to Paris! I left Virginia to move to London a few months ago and I completely understand both the visa and house hunting frustrations! I’ve gone through the Coffee Break French Podcasts while packing and preparing for my move, and I think the program is a great start to speaking French confidently.

    Best wishes for a speedy recovery and looking forward to your posts about France.

    1. It is a huge frustration, but totally worth it in the end. Thanks for the tip on the podcasts. I can use all the help I can get!

  15. Thrilled to see that younger recovering well. Have a friend who went through the same thing and she also mentioned that the pectoral pain was absolutely terrible. Great post. Enjoyed reading this! Wishing you peace and love and all the best in the future! I’m sure you will fall in love with Paris (like everybody else does). xo

    1. Thank you, and I hope your friend is fully recovered and doing well. It’s not really something you can describe, unless you’ve been there.

  16. Wishing you a speedy recovery and peace of mind! It sounds like you’ve been through a lot, but have managed to stay positive! Congrats on the 3 year visa for France! If you make it to Munich, let me know.

    1. Thanks, Laurel! I’ve never been to Munich, and it would be great to finally meet there. Let me know if you ever in Paris.

  17. I think bravery and insanity usually go hand in hand. It’s how the best adventures come about. You have inspired so many people, but more than that you have given us hope. I have to start getting colonoscopies in 2 years. This is really scary for me as a 30-something, but like you, I will do whatever it takes to beat the odds and stay healthy for my kids. I’m going to borrow a little of your strength during my first testing, and remember how brave you were and that you didn’t stop your life… you took a momentary pause as you kept going. If you can do all you have done, I can certainly get my colon checked out to make sure I am cancer free for years to come!

    1. Yes! You should absolutely get regular checks. Please make sure you take care of yourself not only for your kids, but for all the wonderful experiences you’ve yet to have.

  18. Congratulations on overcoming so many things including the competencies and talents card. I’m also in Paris with the same card, all the paperwork and bureaucracy is worth it! Bienvenue en France and bon courage!

    1. Thanks, Jeanette! I’ll have to get your advice on all the things required that come with the card. I’d appreciate any and all advice on that.

    1. Tenacity or stubbornness….I think I’m a little of both. All is going well after the second surgery. It’s just a matter of time now.

  19. I hope you are recovering OK from your last surgery. It is so exciting that you are going to be living in Europe. I look forward to reading about your new adventures.

  20. Leah this is so exciting! Somehow I always knew you’d make it through the surgery and everything else just fine. And I knew you’d leave for your trip on schedule. I can’t wait to see you in Europe

  21. Leah, you are very strong and I admire your courage with your surgeries and your powerful desire to take command of your dreams. I wish you all the best in Paris and hope our travel plans will cross again.

  22. I have to agree with Ted – strange combination of topics but both are worthy of celebration! So glad you made the choice to do the double mastectomy. At this point, hope you are healed and happy.

    As for France, that’s awesome! What an honor! Hope you enjoy life and take advantage of your fast pass to France!

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