My BRCA1 Journey
Back in 2018, I was traveling around the Balkans with YWAM for a DTS (Discipleship Training School). One day during the outreach phase, I found out that my mom had a lump in one of her breasts and that she was going to have a lumpectomy (where they only remove the mass). The doctors did a biopsy on it and found that it was precancerous, so my mom decided to take a test to see if she had any gene mutations for any kind of cancer. If she didn’t test positive for any of the gene mutations, then I would be in the clear. Gene mutations are mostly hereditary. Unfortunately, she tested positive for BARD1 and BRCA1, which highly increases her risk of developing breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers.
She had several options at this point. She already had a hysterectomy, so ovarian cancer was not her concern. But breast cancer, at that point, was highly likely. The options the doctors gave her were to: a) Alternate a mammogram and breast MRI every 6 months; b) take a chemo pill that would likely make her feel sick and have a foggy brain; or c) have a bi-lateral mastectomy. She chose the latter option. This is a major surgery, but it decreases the risk of developing breast cancer from around 85% to 1%. I was so proud of my mom for taking this seriously! She worked out a few times per week because she knew she would need to have the strength for after the surgery.
February 2019 rolls around and it is time for my mom to have her surgery. She had the bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction, and she was a champ! They put expander implants in as fillers since she was planning to have reconstruction surgery as well. Well, unfortunately, the recovery did not go as expected. It was very painful where her drains were, and it turns out it was because of infection. She was running a high fever and was in severe pain where the drains had been. She only had them out for a few days, but then she had to have another surgery to remove all of the infection as well as the expanders. This was a pretty big setback, and it was really disappointing for all of us, including the doctors!
After her second surgery, I stayed in the hospital with her. I had also decided to get tested for the gene mutations since it has been so prevalent in my family. My grandmother, great-grandmother, and great-great grandmother all died of ovarian or breast cancer. The morning after her surgery, I received a phone call with my results. I decided to go to the car for the call just in case it was upsetting news. I can’t say I was surprised; I have the BRCA1 gene mutation. I cried for a minute in the car, but then I collected myself so I could go back inside and be strong for my mom. I didn’t have time to process this information due to taking care of my mom and preparing to move to Serbia just two weeks afterwards.
Once I got to Serbia, I started weighing my options. I moved here in March and didn't get checked until May. I was so scared to get any scans because of what the results could have been. Since I am still under 30, I only need to get exams once per year. So, I have had a breast MRI and an ultrasound to check my ovaries. Praise be to our God that they didn't find anything! Once I turn 30, it is recommended for me to start getting exams every 6 months. But I am so glad that I know so I can be getting checked! I know way too many friends and family members who have passed away from breast or ovarian cancer. It is not too early for you to start getting checked. Yes, maybe it is uncomfortable or inconvenient, but going through chemo, radiation, and surgeries are even more so. Not to mention the emotional toll it takes on you.
So, I want to conclude this post with saying that, although cancer may not be preventable, you can reduce your risk by having preventative surgeries. I know that is a huge decision to make. And if that is not the route that is best for you at this time, you can still get checked regularly. If you wait until you have symptoms, it may be too late. Getting checked regularly can help to find cancer early when it is still easily treatable. So, please go to your lady doctor and get checked regularly! Better yet, get tested for any gene mutations so you can be informed! All you do is spit in a tube and mail it off. Two weeks later you'll have your results. Sometimes insurance will cover it and sometimes they won't. It's $250 people! You can't afford to NOT take this test. I love my friends and family and don’t want to see anyone else I love go through what so many have already.