Hello, my name is Heather Jubitz. I am 31 years old. I enjoy laughing, dinners with girlfriends, dressing up, seeing shows and concerts of various types. I am outgoing and friendly. I am a wife and a stay at home mother of 3. I am a daughter, a sister and as of March 2019… I am a Breast Cancer Previvor.
My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at the young age of 32. At the time she was diagnosed, she had been struggling with a drug addiction for a few years and I was living full time with my dad. My two sisters with my grandparents. I don’t remember much about my moms battle with cancer, but I do remember visiting her in the hospital after her mastectomy and then also her Salpingo-Oophorectomy. At the time, genetic cancer testing was becoming more common and we learned that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. During a meeting with her breast surgeon we were informed that each of us girls had a 50% risk of also having the mutation. I was only 10 at the time and didn’t really understand what it all meant.
Sadly, because of my mother’s lifestyle choices she never qualified for reconstruction and to this day is still fighting her battle against drugs. I haven’t seen her in years but I will forever be proud of her for fighting her fight and winning against cancer – so that I could learn how to protect my own health.
Throughout my teenage years I was always aware of the very real chance that I could have breast cancer someday. But I wasn’t particularly worried about it. I had my first baby and breast fed without any concern. My doctors were aware of the possibility I could have the gene but never suggested being genetically tested. I did however go in for my first routine mammogram at the age of 25, which is recommended for all who are at an increased risk of breast cancer.
When my little sister turned 18, she made the very proactive decision to be tested for the gene. Which inspired my older sister to be tested as well. I was happy for them and proud of their courage. I told them to keep me informed of their results. A few weeks later I had forgotten all about it as my husband and I had just moved out of state and were in the process of planning to have another baby. Then, out of what felt like “the blue” – I got the call. The results were in. My baby sister had the gene, my older sister did not. I immediately hit my knees in prayer. What did this mean for them? What did it mean for me? I received a distinct message that I should also be tested, and went into my doctors office that same week.
I had to fill out some paperwork and provide family history. They drew my blood and told me it can take weeks to receive the results. I went back home feeling a bit of relief that I would soon know my fate but as always, I wasn’t worried or weighed down by it.
About 3 weeks later I found out I was pregnant with baby number 2, and the unknown test results I was anxiously waiting for seemed to be pushed further into the back of my mind. I think I had about 2 weeks to celebrate before I got the dreaded phone call, asking me to come in. My heart sank, I knew it was positive. They don’t make you come in for good news. And sure enough I was right. I felt that it was a bit of a saving grace that I had at least 9 months before I would even have to think about what to do with the new found information.
For the next few years I went in for routine screens every 6 months, until I got pregnant with baby number 3. We moved about 4 hours away in the middle of that pregnancy and after his birth I found myself very busy as a mother of 3! Regrettably I had gone a year + without a routine check by the time I realized it, and then it still took me another 2-3 months to finally get something scheduled because I was nursing.
In August 2018 I finally had another mammogram. About 2 weeks later I was notified that they’d need me to come in for additional testing. I got the same feeling I had when I found out I carried the mutation. I could hardly swallow. Was this the moment I would find out I had cancer? I was only 30. I had children. I had my entire life ahead of me. I couldn’t have cancer. I was suddenly so upset I didn’t choose to have my mastectomy sooner and I made a promise right then and there that if my results ended up being okay this time, I would follow through with it.
6 months later I found myself in my breast surgeons office. I had no real expectations of what was going to happen. I didn’t realize I had options for my reconstruction. I didn’t even think it was possible to have a nipple sparing mastectomy. I was very thankful that while my chosen plastic surgeon would only perform a certain reconstruction (expanders replaced by implants later) that she went over all the options in detail and told me she had several contacts if any of them was what I wanted. I considered DIEP flap, which is a procedure that uses your own tissue to reconstruct the breasts instead of using implants. But the recovery was long and I would have ended up with a much smaller size than before. With my main goal being getting back to my family as soon as possible, my mastectomy was scheduled at the end of that appointment and as of March 26th, 2019 I was officially in Previvor status.
The surgery itself was about what I expected it to be. I knew I would be in pain. I knew I would have lifting restrictions. I knew that I would have temporary range of motion limitations. I knew I would have drains that I would be responsible for cleaning and charting for the next 4 weeks. But what I wasn’t prepared for was the emotional challenges. I didn’t know it would hurt so bad to look in the mirror and think “what have I done?”
I will assure you that those brief moments of emotional distress were quickly taken over by feelings of gratitude that my husband, family and friends were so supportive, that my body was healing quickly, that I was feeling stronger each day and most importantly, that my breasts could no longer cause cancer.
What being a previvor means to me.
Being a previvor means I wasn’t forced to have my breasts removed because I was sick and it was the only option. It means I made the choice to be proactive and have my breasts removed before I got sick. It means that I have had to sacrifice part of my body that makes me a woman, and replace it with a senseless, scarred and imperfect replica. It means I was one of the lucky ones who had a choice.
But it also means I have decreased my risk of breast cancer from 87% to about 4%. I now have a much higher chance of living a cancer FREE life with my children and husband. It means I can help others through my experience. It means I can be an example to my kids and that I can be a place of knowledge for them as they make their own choices in the future about their health if they too, are carriers.
My journey is not over yet.
BRCA1 gene mutations also increase your risk of ovarian cancer. By the time I am 35, I will have to make a decision as to when to have a hysterectomy with a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy. In the next 3.5 years I will no longer be able to bare another child or even consider it. That itself is an entirely separate battle that I will face someday soon.
Until then, I will rest assured my breasts have stopped trying to kill me and I will continue living life a little less cancerous than before.