At 29 years old, Lesley Murphy was making a living traveling the world, writing about it on her blog The Road Les Traveled, and making her hundreds of thousands of Instagram followers jealous. But that was sidetracked when the Bachelor alum tested positive for a gene that links her to a high risk of cancer. Murphy decided to get a double mastectomy after learning she had the BRCA 2 gene mutation, and kept her readers updated through the entire process, even when it meant showing the graphic, not-so-pretty moments.
Murphy's mother was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, and underwent treatment. (She's now cancer-free.) Murphy and her two sisters decided to get tested for the genetic variations that can reflect a higher risk of the disease. Her sisters got tested first — her older sister tested positive, her younger sister tested negative. Once Murphy took the test, it turned out she tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene. (Angelina Jolie revealed she tested positive for BRCA 1, and also underwent a preventive double mastectomy, in 2013.)
When she got her test results Murphy was actually on her way to her annual gynecologist appointment, so she had someone to talk to right away. "[My doctor said,] 'I would not want to sit on something that's potentially cancerous,'" Murphy tells Cosmopolitan.com. "Right then and there, I decided I would go through with [a double mastectomy.]" Her older sister will explore treatment options once she is done having children, Murphy says.
Murphy's surgery was on April 11. And the pain during her recovery was debilitating. "Every time I moved I felt like my chest was detaching from my body," she says. But throughout her rough recovery, she posted raw, intimate photos from her surgery and the aftermath, including up-close shots of her surgery and photos in which she posed topless, with her so-called "new" breasts.
Murphy says she believes it's important to share the truth of her process because she couldn't find similar stories online. "I saw all these articles on corporate websites, but nothing put into somebody's true, authentic words," she explains. "I knew the minute I was going to do the surgery, I was also going to document it. I knew it would be helpful. We're never going through something alone." Warning: The below videos are graphic and probably not safe for work—or for anyone who gets squeamish.
After her double mastectomy, Murphy had expanders put into her body, and had saline pumped into them once a week to create space for the implants. "The best way I can describe them is like two big boulders on my chest," she wrote. "True story: I tell everyone to poke them just because I think it's hilarious to see their look of shock once they feel how hard they are."
She explained the implant surgery on Instagram, noting that it was a "huge difference from the double mastectomy surgery" and that her surgeon opted for smaller implants than they initially expected. "Dr. Wright, thank you for ridding me of those boulders and giving me my normalcy back," she wrote. "You are a magician and I am in awe of your talents."
The next day, she posted a raw photo of herself celebrating Independence Day, still covered in bandages. "Stuffing bras since the 90s," she joked in the caption.
Overall, Murphy now says she's feeling "really, really good," and the pain is far less intense than her double mastectomy was. She's even thinking about working out again. But the worst part to her is not getting to travel for two weeks, which is limiting her ability to work. Until she gets back on the road, though, she's being met with an outpouring of support from fans and from cancer survivors. "I never wanted any kind of sympathy by putting this out there. This is more of a story of empowerment," she says. "I want people to know they can absolutely go through with it [too]. It is scary, it is painful, and you will be surprised at how strong you are."