There has been so much going on in the last 6 weeks. I’ve become a mama (again)
There are moments which humble me. I wonder how other moms make it through the day, and there are moments I am so grateful to be exactly where I am in the chaos of it all.
This morning I watched the (super) early morning news while feeding my daughter at 4 am. The headline story was Angelina Jolie sharing her decision to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy after learning she carried the BRCA-1 (breast cancer) gene. Despite being half-asleep, this jolted me awake quicker than a triple espresso. For me, this is BIG news. She might be the most well-known woman to date who shares my story. This month the BRCA gene has been brought to the forefront again with the Supreme Court hearing the lawsuit against Myriad over whether a company can patent the breast cancer gene and now Angelina Jolie’s op-ed piece in the New York Times.
This blog started in the weeks following my own prophylactic bilateral mastectomy on July 16, 2009. But my story with breast cancer started long before. I was 16 when my mother had breast cancer. In my early 20s, the advice I received from a doctor was to have babies early and ovaries out when I asked about my cancer risk. By 26, I was having annual mammographies and sonograms for cystic breasts. At 29, I watched my mom battle Stage 3 ovarian cancer in the months before I was married. At 31, I learned of my own genetic status (BRCA-2 positive) a decade shy of my mother’s breast cancer diagnosis 15 years before.
I initially chose surveillance after learning I was BRCA-2 positive. However in the following months, several suspicious malignancies were found by ultrasound and MRI. I held my breath until I had the results from every subsequent biopsy – (all 3 were benign). By Christmas 2008, I told my husband I was ready to cut them off.
This was a process. I started the new year meeting with an oncologist, breast surgeon, and psychologist. Couples counseling was a prerequisite to surgery. Stress and uncertainty marked this period, and my relationship with my husband grew in unexpected ways. He urged me to go to the FORCE (Facing Our Risk Cancer Empowered) conference where I met women who had undergone surgeries. I felt divinely guided at the conference with every conversation and chance encounter to the excellent doctors who performed my procedure (one-step nipple sparing) all the way through my navigation with insurance.
I became vulnerable in unfamiliar ways. I was used to supporting others, and I now needed to rest and be supported. I slowed down. It was a period of learning to wait, where I could feel myself coming undone like a wall being prepped before painted. My undoing allowed for true healing of my mind, body, and soul.
With each person who comes out of the BRCA closet and shares a story, we change the future faces of breast cancer. Since I learned of my BRCA-2 status, I have met and spoken with hundreds of women who are also previvors (as opposed to survivors). Thank you Angelina Jolie for courageously choosing to share your previvor story with the world. Our stories matter. They bring awareness and light to those places of uncertainty.
My BRCA story does not end here. It’s a non-linear story that keeps on going, with more doctor’s appointments and a surgery in the upcoming months. My story matters. It may be another person’s life force. That’s reason enough to keep them coming…