You may have heard about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy in response to having the genetic mutation BRCA1. I am both inspired and motivated to share my story regarding my journey that resonates so deeply with hers… I applaud her decision, as I too made the same one. My breast surgeon also was adamant about me having a full hysterectomy as well. When I saw the news, all the memories and emotions flooded my heart and mind, and I knew I needed to share my story again, in hopes that awareness for the BRCA genetic mutation testing can be more publicized. Although there is a very low percentage of women/men with the BRCA mutations, I fear this figure is low due to the lack of testing for it.
I was blessed to have reason to get tested, in a somewhat cruel and punishing way… but I wonder if this genetic connection isn’t something that can be more prevalent than we think. Heredity plays a big part in Breast Cancer, and I am living proof that if you have a relative with this cancer, you very well could be holding the keys to life in one simple blood test. My sister gave me the chance to discover this very truth.
A few years ago, I shared my sister’s story and mine. We were fresh out of a year filled with agonizing decisions and painful realities. If you would like to read that post, it is here.
My oldest sister was diagnosed with stage 3-breast cancer. As she endured all that cancer patients do: chemo and radiation… test after test…medicines…pain…surgeries…her world was consumed with fighting the monster that held her captive of her life. Throughout this awful time of suffering and horror, she was tested for the genetic mutations BRCA1 and BRCA2. The tests came back positive for the BRCA1, which led her to urgently beg her three sisters to get tested as well. This mutation is genetic and there was a 50% chance my other two sisters and I had it. Our mom’s mom died very young of breast cancer, and because my sister was diagnosed before the age of fifty… the high risk of developing breast cancer appeared to be a significant reality in all our lives, whether we had the mutation or not.
I remember the phone call all too clearly…
She was desperately urging me to get tested while she was in her pain and vulnerable existence. I truly believed she was grasping on to the only hope she could…
Saving her sisters.
I immediately complied and honored her wishes and made an appointment with my doctor. I was the first of my three sisters to take that step… and I was the first to receive the devastating news that I too, had the BRCA1 mutation. (One more sister had it as well…and had the same surgeries I did soon after. THREE out of four of us girls had this mutation. Amazing. )
This news led me to countless doctor appointments and the decision to prevent what looked like a more than 87% chance of getting breast cancer. I had already been through two abnormal biopsies earlier in my 30’s and with the family history, and now the mutation… it was clearly a threat to my life. My breast surgeon immediately gave me the treatment protocol for a double mastectomy and was adamant about me having a full hysterectomy as well. After much research, prayer, and consults with several surgeons and doctors…
I was preparing for a double mastectomy, reconstruction, and a full hysterectomy.
Three surgeons. Three surgeries. One life-giving day.
And all through the countless pre-operation appointments, tests, MRI’s, and preparations for this massive ‘full body house cleaning’- my husband worked out of town and both my little kids were terribly ill. My daughter continued in an asthmatic flare for the three weeks leading up to my surgeries, so I was up every night all through the night treating and caring for my precious and very sick little six-year-old girl. For the two months leading up to this massive surgery, I dragged my then three-year-old son to many appointments, attempted to get my daughter to doctors regarding her health, and mentally/emotionally prepared for this significant and critical day.
As difficult as all of this was, I never for one moment felt self-pity… my heart was with my sister who was enduring the ‘real thing’. I knew it was going to be rough, but I also knew my suffering would be over and hers would go on for life… how could I possibly think I had it bad?
Quite frankly, my story isn’t about cancer. It’s about one difficult season of preventing it. When I reflect on this time in my life, my thoughts and heart always remember the most tragic part of it all.
My sister has cancer.
And being a mother of three-year-old and a chronically sick six-year-old was the hardest part of my journey. It was the epitome of being a mom. Although I was going through a very stressful and scary time in my life, every day was filled with being a mom. My daughter consumed my fears and worries…more than the surgeries. She was my main focus… and as draining as it was to care for her and nurse her back to health- it was the most important thing to do.
I went into the surgery bone tired and hadn’t slept in weeks. I truly didn’t believe my body would withstand the trauma on such a deprived state of existence.
But it did. By the Grace of God… it did.
I said goodbye to all the physical pieces and parts that make me a woman… and hello to a new life of knowing that the only redemption my sister triumphed in, was rescuing her beloved sisters from the beast that hides in her.
I came out battered, bruised, cut, and in horrendous agony. It was a long, painful and grueling recovery.
My husband bathed me. My sister came into town to be by my bedside calling the nurse for more pain meds when I could only gasp. I could hardly breathe, move, really function for weeks, and it was months before I could finally manage the pain. I was surgically thrown into early menopause that wreaked havoc on my emotional state as well. I ended up with an infection in my right breast… that took me back into torturing pain. I now have new limits on my physical strength and abilities. But I will never complain. Although I still feel pain at times, it reminds me that my sister remains captive in her prison of this life sentence. Thank God, she is still alive and fighting the good fight!
It was a season that defined my existence, but will never define me.
I am whole. I am a woman. I am free of breast cancer.
I had the miraculous blessing of being able to move on, without the fear of this reality lurking in the corners of my life.
It was for me, exactly what I knew it would be. A blurry and agonizing season of suffering and fear and victory. I am forever grateful to my dear sister for giving me (and my other sister) a fighting chance to prevent what happened to her. My daughter has a 50% chance of having the mutation as well. My sister may have saved her life too.
*If you have a relative with breast cancer, please look into this test! One simple blood test truly may save your life.*