Preemptive Strike: My Story
BRCA: "Everyone has two copies of each gene, one from each parent. Most people are born with two normal copies of each gene. Hereditary cancers occur when a person is born with changes or mutations in one copy of a damage-controlling gene which normally protects against cancer. In the majority of these cases, the changes were inherited from the mother or father."
On a happy note, I married my husband and we started a family right away. I told my mom I was pregnant just months after moving home to help care for her. Andrea was born November 9th, 2007. While I was pregnant my mom was tested for a gene mutation that predicts high levels of particular cancers (breast and ovarian). She was positive for one mutation called BRCA2. Immediately I was told I needed to get tested as I had a 50% of inheriting the gene. I refused as I was pregnant and felt that it could wait until I was ready. My mother's only sister was also told. As we all waiting in gripping anxiety, her test came back negative for both mutations.
After Jackson was born I resumed my MRIs and yearly visits to the oncologist. As the death of my mother sunk in and my life began to take shape without her, I began to really attach to the words my mother said before her death. She asked me (demanded me) to do whatever I could do to not be sick like she was. When I first told her that we were going to try for a second baby, that we felt we didn't have time, she laughed and said we needed to wait. That we did have time and I was over reacting. That seems ironic coming from a person with cancer. But at the time she was under control. But after declining rapidly and having some persistent setbacks, my mom quickly changed from "don't worry" to, "please don't take your knowledge for granted." I promised my mom, and I meant it.
It became clear that I needed to make a decision. I needed to follow through on the advice from my doctors. In March of 2011, I started to research prophylactic surgery. Prophylactic surgery is a preventative surgery where the most at risk tissue is removed. The impact of this surgery is that a person with BRCA minimizes their risk of breast and ovarian cancer to single statistical digits. While I had always thought I would only have my ovaries removed, I found that my breast cancer risk would only decrease to 50%. I felt that was still too high. I then decided that if I was going to pursue this, I needed to do it. I decided to have my breast and ovaries removed.
In June of 2011, I had the first phase of prophylactic surgery. I had a bilateral mastectomy and bilateral oophorectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction. I was under for 10 hours and spent nine weeks recovering. I had the second phase of reconstruction December 2011. I spent 2 hours under and four weeks recovering. I still have more reconstruction and healing to complete, but day to day I feel at peace with my decision and find security that I will be around to never miss a moment with my family.