Lesley Murphy isn’t easily fazed by the drama of reality television, because for the former Bachelor contestant, her own reality is powerful enough.
Last April, Murphy — after learning she carries the BRCA2 gene, which would have put her at a higher risk for breast cancer — decided to undergo a double mastectomy. Twelve weeks later, she underwent reproductive surgery, documenting her entire emotional journey on social media.
“I’m still inundated with messages from people of all walks of life,” she tells PEOPLE. “I had no idea the impact it would have.”
Now, the 30-year-old travel journalist says she’s still getting used to her new body. “I was never attached to my breasts, but they were still a body part that grew on me for 29 years,” Murphy says. “Even some mornings when I wake up now, my breasts feel foreign. But I’m getting there. And I love them now.”
Murphy is also working with Embrace Scar Therapy, a scar therapy product. Murphy says she’s not trying to cover up her scars, but rather help them heal. “I love the scars. I don’t wish them away,” she says. “They make me feel strong and brave and courageous.”
After competing on Sean Lowe’s season of The Bachelor in 2013, Murphy traveled the world and declined opportunities to join the cast of Bachelor in Paradise. “I’m not so much a get drunk on the beach and make out kind of girl,” she says with a laugh. But when the chance to join Bachelor Winter Games, a competition pitting American fan favorites against international contestants of the franchise, came along, “it was like my two worlds colliding — Bachelor and travel,” Murphy says. “I went into it with a very open mind.”
RELATED VIDEO: Dean Unglert Opens Up About Rumored Romance with Bachelor Alum Lesley Murphy
On set, Murphy connected with former Bachelorette contestant Dean Unglert, with whom she shares a sad history. “We bonded over the fact that both of our moms had breast cancer and his mom unfortunately passed away. He knew about my surgery and my recent double mastectomy. He had the sweetest things to say about it. He was like, ‘I commend you so much for doing that.’”
As far as a romantic connection, “we’re very different people, but that’s attractive in a way. He drew me in,” he says. Not to mention,“He’s hard to look away from!”
The Bachelor Winter Games premieres Tuesday at 8 p.m. ET on ABC.