I’ve never been a gambler, but 50/50 odds seem pretty good until they’re not. My life was going great. I was 33, happily married for eleven years to my high school sweetheart, and I had just given birth to the youngest of our four boys about two months prior. We had just returned from a fun weekend getaway when my mom called to say she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She played it off as no big deal, as moms always do, but with a family history of cancer like ours, I know cancer is always a big deal. A few days later, we found out that my mom had tested positive for a BRCA1 gene mutation, Exon13 ins 6kb, to be exact. I immediately scheduled to be tested for the mutation. The odds of a parent, mother, or father, passing the mutation on to their children is 50/50. My mom raised me, an only child, as a single mother. I was almost convinced that I would be negative; I was wrong. I received my results over the phone on May 14, 2014. I was driving home with all four of my boys in the car, and it was pouring rain. Thankfully, I had just pulled in the driveway as the word positive echoed through the phone. My boys were already jumping out of the car and running into the house as the tears started to pour from my eyes, just like the rain landing on my windshield. For a few moments, I was in despair. Did I already have cancer that I was unaware of? Did I pass this mutation on to my children? How would I tell my mom, who was in the middle of chemo treatments? All legitimate concerns, but I soon realized how fortunate my situation was. I submitted this quote to the group, Young Previvors, to express what it means to me to have the opportunity to be proactive.
I already knew my statistics, 87% chance of breast cancer in my lifetime and 40-60% chance of ovarian cancer. I already knew my options. Heavy surveillance of alternating mammograms and breast MRIs every six months, and transvaginal ultrasounds alternated with pelvic exams and CA125 values. Or preventative surgeries. This would mean a total hysterectomy and removal of my ovaries and a double mastectomy, with the option of reconstruction. I never had any doubt that I would go the surgical route. It was my best chance of reducing my risk as much as possible. That was the only option I could live with. I proceeded with the hysterectomy and ovary removal (BSO) on 8/4/2014. This surgery was a brainer for me. It was the easier recovery of the two surgeries, and there is currently no good testing strategy to detect ovarian cancer at the earliest stages. We had already decided we were done having children before I even knew about my genetic mutation. Sure, there are concerns about being thrust into surgical menopause at least two decades before its time, but those are issues I am willing to deal with.
The decision to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction was a much more daunting task, both mentally and physically. In my next blog, I will go into detail about how I decided on DIEP Flap reconstruction. During the process of making this huge and sometimes terrifying decision, I realized how fortunate I am. To live in a time when a simple DNA test can give me a choice to beat cancer to the punch. I got to take my time and find the best surgeons, a luxury many women facing a breast cancer diagnosis don’t have. I didn’t have to suffer through chemo or radiation. I know I am a lucky one, and I will never take that for granted. I know there is no guarantee I would have gotten breast or ovarian cancer, but if I didn’t beat the 50/50 odds, I wasn’t taking a chance on being in that elusive 13%. I know I’ve done the best I can do to reduce my risk dramatically, and that is a priceless gift to my children, my family, and myself.
For more information about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, visit the FORCE website.