Breast cancer has always been a common term in my family. Growing up, it was something I heard about a lot. I used to have to help my grandma hook her bra with her prosthetic breasts. Seeing a woman who had undergone a mastectomy wasn’t a shocking sight for me. As a teenager, I assumed that one day, I too would get breast cancer. When I was 16, my mom underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Her recovery was far from easy. I remember having to help her bathe and do simple tasks. She started having so many complications that ultimately she decided she would not have her breasts reconstructed. She didn’t need them anymore.
When I turned 18, my mom started asking me to do a genetic test that would determine if I would have the mutation that causes such a high occurrence of breast cancer in my family; A BRCA mutation test. I refused! I was really upset. “What the hell is BRCA?! Why should I take a stupid test to find out if I’m going to have cancer?! I’m 18 years old! I just want to start college, travel, and party with my friends! I want to be a normal 18-year-old girl, not worry about CANCER!”
Seven years later I am 25 years old. My mom has now survived three types of cancer. She is my hero. She asks again, “Will you do the test? Both of your sisters have done it. They are both negative. I need to know if you have the mutation.” I shrug, roll my eyes and say “Okay, Mom.”
I meet with a genetic counselor and she can tell I don’t want to do this. She knows my mom is the one who talked me into it. She tells me that no one can force me to do this test. It has to be my choice. I go forward with it anyway.
The weeks leading up to the results were horrible. I was scared, anxious and angry. The day I got the results, I felt neutral. I just wanted to get it over with. The counselor recapped the risk involved with the mutation and what it would mean. “Hurry up and tell me,” I thought. “I’m sorry to say, but your results were positive.” Then, just tears. I didn’t have cancer, I still don’t. When I heard those words though, it was as if I was just diagnosed with cancer. The results haunted me for a few months. It was on my mind constantly. I felt so alone. My sisters didn’t have to worry about it, but I did. Why me? I felt like such a victim.
My genetic counselor referred me to FORCE and introduced me to the coined term “previvor”. I decided to search Facebook to see what came up. “Young Previvors”. A private support group for women just like me. I was no longer alone.
In October of 2012, at age 25, I announced to my family and close friends that I would undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Everyone was so supportive. I completed my first surgery on January 4, 2013 and had my permanent implants placed in April 2013. Recovering from a mastectomy was not easy. Even being a fit, healthy young woman, it was the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life. I kept telling myself I couldn’t imagine having to do this after being diagnosed with cancer, like many of the women in my family. I look back though, and I don’t regret having a mastectomy one bit. I experienced much anxiety and depression before, all because I felt like I was sentenced to get breast cancer. I no longer have to worry about getting the bad news like so many women in my family. I can continue living my life. NO BREAST CANCER FOR ME!! Another perk?? One can hardly tell I’ve even had my real breasts removed. My surgeons are so talented and the technology today used to reconstruct breasts is out of this world! In a society, where body image is everything, I hope I can inspire young women to not be afraid of having this procedure and to make an informed decision. Life is worth living.