I remember watching Oprah many years ago about a mother and her grown daughter who opted to have preventative "skin saving double mastectomies". Something told me to file this away for later because I would probably need to remember this information. I was right.
Fast forward to October, 2012. I was 35, my husband and I were living in an apartment in Franklin, TN (our house sold and we were in the process of building our dream home), AND we had four young children (ages 5, 4, 3 and 6 months). My Mom was still living in my hometown of Orlando, FL, and we were begging her to move up to Nashville to live with us.
As far back as I can remember, my Mom feared getting diagnosed with breast cancer. Her Mom and all of my Mom's maternal aunts passed away from some form of breast or ovarian cancer. That strong family history of cancer, along with our Ashkenazi Jewish genetics, puts us on the scary side of the statistics. After my Mom had a questionable mammogram, and with a borderline neurotic daughter (me) hounding her, my Mom decided to get tested for the dreaded BRCA 1 and 2 genes. My sister and I also got tested right around the same time. As it turns out, all three of us possess this genetic flaw. While I understand some people may prefer to not know, the females in my family don't operate that way. We figure if there's a way to be proactive with today's technology, why not take the steps necessary to ensure we can enjoy a long, healthy life.
When you discover that you're a carrier of the BRCA gene, it slaps you with the reality that a breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer diagnosis is a VERY real possibility in your future. While not all breast cancer patients have this faulty gene, nearly 87% of us with BRCA 1 and/or 2 WILL at some point be diagnosed with breast cancer. Our ovarian cancer odds are a little bit better, somewhere near 50%. While we both could have chosen to do nothing and have our doctors closely monitor us every six months, if you know us, it was no surprise that we both opted for and scheduled our surgeries for as soon as humanly possible.
My Mom's double mastectomy was on the Tuesday before thanksgiving in 2012 in Orlando, and mine was December 13, 2012 in Nashville. I can't even count the number of people who considered this timing to be "insane" or "ridiculous". I heard from so many, "Why don't you just wait until you get moved into your new house, then deal with it?" "Your kids are so little! Why now?"
Why now? Here's why:
- If I'm given the chance to do anything, and I mean anything, to prolong my time here on Earth with my loved ones, sign me up.
-Seriously, is there EVER a convenient time to do something like this? As far as I was concerned, get any cell out of my body that could turn into cancer at any given second. I felt like a ticking time bomb, and I wasn't going to wait around. Once those cells turn into cancer, it would be a whole new ball game.
- My mind was already made up but when two of my doctors said "if you were my daughter, I would ask that you choose to do this ASAP." I did.
- I felt somewhat blessed that I could actually do something about one of my biggest fears! I could reduce my risk of getting breast cancer to under 10%! To me, this was a complete no-brainer.
Leading up to surgery, we had to have another mammogram and a very in-depth MRI. These would help the doctors know what they were dealing with. My Mom's MRI had a suspicious spot turn up which needed a biopsy. It was a huge scare, but all ended up fine. My MRI was completely humiliating because I'm very claustrophobic and my cat-like reflexes kept preventing me from allowing the bed to roll into the tunnel with me on it. One very strong Xanax, lots of tears, and a super sweet nurse who popped in some earplugs and sat next to me to hold my hand (for 31 minutes! Bless her heart)...and I did it. I also decided to have a full hysterectomy at the same time as the double mastectomy. We love our four children and had discussed having five, but our hands were full, and we were beyond comfortable with my decision.
We both had a team of doctors (an OBGYN, a breast surgeon, and a plastic surgeon) that devised the best plan of action. We knew we were in solid hands, and we were ready to go. I was very fortunate to have a supportive husband, my Dad, my Stepmom, siblings, and the world's best friends all rally to get me through this. My Mom also would have been present to take care of me had she not been going through the same process 700 miles away. I knew we were both going to be fine with the support around us. While I was a bit scared, I just kept thinking of the many people who HAD been diagnosed with breast cancer and were facing this surgery. I would rather "my scared" than "that scared".
Both of our surgeries went fabulously, but we had two completely different experiences. My Mom was sent home to recover that day. I was allowed to stay in the hospital for three nights, where I would say and do many embarrassing things (all drug related, of course).
I could write pages on the recovery itself, but I will save that for another time.
What I want this piece to focus on is the decision itself. My Mom and I both made the right one for us. Here's the confirmation...
My Mom received a call from her doctor with a "surprise". She was asked to come in before her one week follow up. During surgery, the breast tissue was sent to pathology for a screening "just in case". Pathology reports showed that my Mom actually had breast cancer in the breast that DIDN'T show anything suspicious in both the mammogram or her MRI. Her doctor told her that the cancer was early, but the surgery FOR SURE saved her life! She wouldn't need any sort of treatment and could consider herself a survivor. Wow.
While we are both so grateful for this to be behind us, there are many who are just now walking this path. I encourage you to gather any and all information possible. Ask your doctors every question you have. If they can't find time to get you answers, find another doctor! I have been beyond blessed with fabulous doctors, family, and friends. I thank each and every one of them, from the bottom of my heart, for helping me get me through this.
My contact information is below, and I welcome any correspondence. This is scary stuff, but if you or your loved ones are faced with this, you are not alone.