SHORT VERSION: Well I have the BRCA1 gene mutation. My personal risk for breast cancer in my lifetime is 87% and my personal risk for ovarian cancer is 50%. After finding a lump in my breast this past year, I was ready to tackle this mutation head on. I DO NOT HAVE BREAST CANCER. I REPEAT I DO NOT HAVE BREAST CANCER. I am having a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. If you don’t like medical jargon… I am removing both of my healthy breasts so that I don’t fall in line with the 87%. I’ll be dealing with my baby maker in the future.
But if you are signing up to follow me into battle, I’m sure you’ll want to read the long version.
LONG VERSION: In 2011, I was 25 and got booted from my pediatricians office. Yes, that is correct. I was 25 and still seeing the pediatrician. What? I liked the lollipops and get weird with new people. You are already thinking… “Why am I going to read about someone on a health mission if she was still seeing a pediatrician at 25?” I don’t know why you should either, but damn it, please continue reading. I digress…
In 2011, I saw a big girl doctor. A big girl doctor I actually grew to hate (continue reading and you’ll hear why she sucks so much). We sat chatting about my family’s health history or as I like to refer to as “my family cancer tree”. My doctor perched up in her seat and said:
“Have any of the women in your family been tested for the BRCA gene mutation?”
“Yes, my mom carries it.”
“Oh” (long pause and then she sat giving me that look your friend gives you when you know what she is thinking, but she just can’t quite say it, because she feels so bad for you and then you want to blurt-JUST SAY IT B*TCH). She gains some courage and some temporary professionalism.
“Well because your mother is a carrier of the gene mutation, you have a 50% chance of carrying the same genetic mutation as well. With your family history, are you wondering what your chances of breast and ovarian cancer are?”
“I mean, sure. This sounds intense.”
“No, no it’s just a blood test. I’ll write an order for one and I’ll give you a call in a couple of weeks. Think Positive.”
I had no idea I would TEST POSITIVE. (The moment you’ve been waiting for… this b*tch doctor and my downfall with BRCA). I would like to preface the importance of genetic counseling prior to finding out whether or not you are ready to deal with the ramifications of the blood test results. My doctor never had a discussion about the emotional aftermath of “just a blood test”.
“Testing positive for BRCA1 is not a death sentence. However, we have calculated your risk for breast cancer in your lifetime to be at 87%. With your strong family history and the timeline of when women in your family were first diagnosed with breast cancer, we recommend that you remove your breasts by 35. We’ve also calculated your risk for ovarian cancer in your lifetime to be around 50%. Once you are done planning your family, if you plan on having children, you should remove your ovaries…”
This is when I stopped listening. The floodgates of sh*t thoughts stormed through.
Whiskey Tango Foxtrot… that’s military code for WHAT THE F*CK? I’m 25. I mean I’ve been with my boyfriend since I was 17. Damn it Chris put a ring on it already. Wait, Wait, Wait b*tch. I was a late bloomer. I didn’t need a bra for most of middle school. And maybe “developed” less than 10 years ago. AND YOU WANT ME TO REMOVE MY BOOBS? I thought at 25 you would want to talk to me about forms of birth control… and you want me to family plan and remove my ovaries in 10 years? This ought to be fun when I go home to my boyfriend. “Hey Chris. What the hell are you waiting for? Pop the questions so we can make babies and I can remove everything that physically defines me as woman!”
I start listening again.
“So next week we have scheduled a mammogram. You will need to be screened every 6 months. We will rotate mammograms with MRIs. We feel like this is the best way to ensure we catch it early.”
We had a brief discussion about a drug called Tamoxifen, however, I was not open to this option once she discussed the side effects; one of them impacting fertility. Wait a second here sister sledge. My 25 year old self could not process all of this at once. Risk reduction = bon voyage boobs. And early prevention strategy = mammograms and MRI’s rotated every 6 months so you can detect my cancer early? WHO DO YOU THINK YOU ARE TALKING ABOUT ME AND MY CANCER? You think I’m going to go for screening every 6 months from now until I die? How is this going to prevent me from getting breast cancer? I have a pulse again.
“Tell me about the 13%.”
“I’m sorry I don’t understand.”
“Tell me how I can fall into the 13% category. If this test calculated my risk to be 87%, you said it’s not a guarantee that I will get cancer. Are there studies on the women that fall into the 13% category?”
She looked at me as if I were so naive for asking and without compassion in her voice responded, “I mean you can adopt a healthy lifestyle. There are lots of great benefits from eating well and exercising. But you’re already fit any way. Listen. You’re NOT going to diet and exercise this genetic mutation away. It’s not how it works.” (For those of you curious about the science behind the gene, click here).
So I wrote her off as a sh*t doctor that clearly can’t handle due dili. When I ask you what I can do to NOT get cancer…Tell me I need to fart 50 times a day or stand on my head. I’ll do whatever it takes. There has to be some holistic options. There has to be.
And so began my quest. Me, my 25 year old self against every Western medicine man. I’ll make this part quick. I started going for acupuncture and fell in love with my Asian medicine woman, who by the way cured every ass ache I’ve ever had. She would enlighten me on how my body works yada yada yada… someday I’ll post about it. In the mean time, I did everything I could to get my hands on as much information as possible. I read on cancer prevention diets, alkalizing the body, food synergy, cancer in general, medical journals, BRCA studies, how to live past 100. My library has been kind of comical. You were reading the “Hunger Game” series and I’m learning how my colon health is the key to life. In the end, I revamped my lifestyle. I adopted an organic diet (obviously I cheat now and then, but mostly I’m pretty good). I decreased my sugar consumption. I started drinking my veggies before it was a thing. Okay, so you get it. I changed my ways. Fast Forward. Chris finally decided he would deal with my antics for a lifetime. YAY MARRIAGE. Gave birth to my chicken (not A chicken…I’m not that genetically mutated). Breast fed for 4 months exclusively. We ran into a whole lot of problems with one working boob and one non working boob. Became crazy lop-sided. And now I have a freak show of a rack. woooooooo (if you haven’t had kids yet I’m sure I just scared you and if you’re a dude sorry…TMI…maybe this blog isn’t for you).
Despite living my life by eating well and exercising, I truly feel like I take care of myself on a highly conscious level. I know my body well enough. I know when something is wrong. And I am not afraid to act right away if there is a problem. So for four years, I have sat on this knowledge. I have quietly tried to subdue this mutation as much as I can control it. But BRCA1 puts my health at such a precarious risk. My lifestyle does not change the fact that my body has a premeditated invasion that is happening and there is an 87% someday I will not be ready for the attack.
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles. If you know yourself but not the enemy, for every victory gained you will also suffer a defeat. If you know neither the enemy nor yourself, you will succumb in every battle.” -Sun Tau, The Art of War.
I want to be clear. I am not at war with Cancer. I’m at war with anything standing in the way between you, me and the healthy world we deserve to live. Quite frankly, if we were to have a political discussion you would find I’m somewhat of a pacifist. But in my family, cancer travels in the form of this genetic mutation. I believe we need to fight to the ends of the earth to ensure our bodies, our intricate amazing vessels can carry us. We should not feel invaded. I am fighting to educate all of us on how our bodies work, what our bodies need, and what we can do to make a difference. Together let’s have the audacity to learn what we can do to blissfully take our health in our own hands. Let’s wage war on anything standing in the way between you and your most bountiful, beautiful and healthful life. Are you with me?
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