On March 30, 2010 I received positive results for the BRCA2 genetic mutation. This puts me at up to a 87% chance of developing breast cancer and up to a 40%-60% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Obviously, these aren’t great odds.
I took the genetic test because my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45. Upon her diagnosis, it came out that numerous relatives on her father’s side of the family had also had breast cancer. When she tested positive for BRCA2, that meant I had a 50/50 chance of being positive myself. I never doubted I was positive; somehow, it’s something I just knew.
At first, I was devastated. The options for BRCA positive individuals are limited: increased surveillance (hoping to catch the cancer early, when it’s most treatable); preventative surgery (removal of healthy breasts and ovaries); or chemoprevention, a form of medication used to prevent cancer (that comes with its own unpleasant side effects and is not recommended to those still planning to bear children). I wished, in the beginning, that I had never found out this information.
Now? I believe knowledge is power. While I’ll never say I’m glad I have this mutation, I do feel I’m lucky to know. I can plan my next steps and know that I’m doing everything in my power to stay healthy and alive. Right now, that means annual mammograms and MRIs, alternating every six months. It means enrolling in an ovarian cancer early detection study for ovarian screening. It means visiting with surgeons and weighing my options so I can plan for a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy (with reconstruction) in a few years.
My positive results changed my life, but they didn’t break my life as I thought they would. I have met some incredible, amazing, friends-for-life kind of people because of this mutation. I’ve learned I can be strong and that I can be smart and that life is to be lived.
If you are affected by one of the BRCA mutations or think you may be, I strongly recommend Bright Pink and FORCE, both organizations with which I’m involved. You’re always welcome to email me to chat at firstname.lastname@example.org.