Five years ago today I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Actually two separate cancers. You may find this hard to believe but the diagnosis, while unpleasant, was no surprising. It also wasn’t devastating. Testing positive for BRCA2+ 8 months earlier, however, was. In fact, it was downright awful.
What is BRCA2??? It’s an inherited gene mutation. In the early to mid nineties scientists made a huge leap through research when they found the gene mutation(s). Everyone has BRCA genes. Their function is to produce tumor suppressor proteins which assist in repairing damaged DNA and the stability of such. When mutated, protein product is not made, DNA damage repair is impaired. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic changes which can and put those with the mutation at a much higher risk of cancers. Simplified, these genes fight tumors in feminine (and male) parts such as breasts and ovaries. Men are at higher risk of breast cancer as well. In short, it sucks!
However, with that said, knowing you have the mutation increases the chances of finding the cancer(s) early. Early prevention (in ALL cancers) saves lives. Close and frequent screening reduces the risks of advanced disease (cancer), saves lives. It also means you get felt up by your doctors more frequently! Okay, okay, perhaps not funny but I think so!
Never once did I think or fear that I would die from this bout with breast cancer. It wasn’t an option. I knew I had a long road ahead of me, some very unpleasant experiences, treatments, but it was not going to take my life.
I am in remission. I have been for five years. Well, my doctors consider my remission date the date of the mastectomies which was July 27th, I count from the date of diagnosis.
I was fortunate. As frightened as I was to have the mastectomies, after all, I was a single 47 year old woman who didn’t want my breasts removed, no woman does, my niece, who also tested positive for the mutation, underwent double prophylactic mastectomies, removal of breasts to lower her risks of getting breast cancer. Controversial, many, including myself at one point, judged a woman who made this difficult decision. Why would a woman remove healthy parts of their body? In my opinion, because she’s smart! She is being proactive, courageously facing her risks, taking charge and empowering herself from these hereditary cancers. She was one brave woman and paved the way for me to even consider the option. An amazing woman, who I believe was 29 when she had this done.
Breast cancer is the 2nd leading cause of death in women, second only to heart disease. According to the CDC (Center for Disease Control) 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer at some point in their lives. For those in remission who do not have the mutation(s), the longer they go without recurrence, the better their chances of no recurrence. For a person with the gene mutation, the longer you go without recurrence, the greater the risk.
I opted for the double mastectomies, reconstruction (implants), and declined chemotherapy. My oncologist was comfortable with my decision given the radical surgeries I underwent. My cancer(s) were estrogen receptive. Therefore, I have been on one nasty ass drug named “Tamoxifen” and will remain on this for 5 years, which for me will be this coming December. Following this I will go on another hormone suppressing drug for five years. I was fortunate, again. This regime was not available to my sister when she was diagnosed at the age of 40 (she’s old…57) 🙂 This is why research and development is so important with all diseases…progress. My sister’s breast cancer diagnosis, and my younger sister’s ovarian and uterine cancer diagnosis and unfortunate passing at the age of 38 probably saved my, my sisters and my nieces life. Knowledge is power!
If you have the mutation you are at 50% risk of passing this along to your children, and they their children. We all hope and pray that the mutation stops with my niece and that her children are free of this.
I wouldn’t wish the journey of breast cancer and the grueling reconstruction on anyone, but I wouldn’t trade my personal growth for the world. As a person who has struggled most of my life with clinical depression(s), fighting my cancer(s), fighting back, made me realize how much I do want to live.
So now my breasts have serial numbers and I can run without a bra! The pisser is, these suckers will stand up and not move an ounce but the rest of me does!
As most of us cancer survivors have said on numerous occasions, and most everybody has seen on hats, tshirts, sweatshirts and more…… FUCK CANCER! So fuck you cancer…. I win!
I also want to add that I believe the words “cancer survivor” extends to the loved ones who have walked alongside their loved one in the difficult journey through cancer, and the too too many who have succumbed to it.
KNOW YOURS RISKS!!!!