By: Casey Somerville
I’m Casey Somerville, a 33-year-old previvor, wife, mom, reader, artist, and beach lover who lives in St. Petersburg, Florida with my husband and 3 children. I found out about my BRCA1 mutation last summer, and recently had preventative surgery in May and June. I can be found on Instagram @theflattiecloset.
I leaned forward with my phone pressed to my ear as waves of anxious nausea churned in my stomach. My husband sat beside me, waiting for me to indicate yes or no as I listened to what the genetic counselor was saying on the other end. I gave a strained, quick nod. Yes. I was positive for BRCA1. Yes, my chances for cancer were very high. Yes, we’d need to start thinking preventatively and proactively. Yes: my life would always be affected in some way by BRCA from this moment forward. Yes.
Cancer runs in my family, but it wasn’t until last year when my sister Erin was diagnosed with breast cancer at the unthinkable age of 30 that I really started to seriously consider my risk. My sister’s genetic panel showed that she carried the BRCA1 mutation, and that prompted my siblings and I to get tested, one after the other. I made first contact with the genetic counselor just weeks after my sister’s diagnosis. Days after that initial phone call, I was spitting into a tube and overnighting my saliva to a lab, knowing in my bones it would probably show a positive result.
And there it was.
My thoughts raced over the next few months whenever I processed my BRCA news out loud, internally, or on paper. I was overwhelmed by the sheer amount of decisions I knew I was going to have to make, relieved to finally know what I was up against, confused by my options, and terrified by every Google search. I was also weirdly grateful that I now had the opportunity to tackle my faulty family genes alongside my brave, cancer-fighting sister. I was already tired. Part of me wanted to just ignore the whole thing and get on with my life.
Deciding what I wanted to do about my odds was a process that took the better part of a year. After meeting with the breast and gynecological surgeons at Moffitt Cancer Center here in Tampa, Florida, I had my work cut out for me. Facts and percentages and studies jumbled together as my husband and I tried to make sense of it all.
At first, I thought I’d be content to just do breast scans every six months, along with routine gynecological exams. But the more I processed it, the more I realized that my chances were too high, my young family too precious, and my will to live too strong. I didn’t want to sit around and wait until the day a doctor potentially found something during an MRI or mammogram. I didn’t want to have the possibility of ovarian cancer (which, my surgeon informed me, is referred to as “the silent killer”) looming over the rest of my life like a threatening thunderstorm.
I did my best thinking at the beach near our home and out on the water, attempting to float and paddleboard my anxieties into tidy categories. I would come home exhausted and salty with some new insight, a short-lived calm, or a piece of the decision laid to rest.
My options narrowed as I considered what I really wanted and what really mattered to me: being around both mentally and physically for my kids as they grew up became the driving force behind my choices. Soon my hysterectomy was planned. Then my mastectomy. Our family was complete, and I was ready to relinquish my female organs for the greater good.
The one thing I didn’t feel settled on or completely comfortable with was implants. As I contemplated losing so many physical parts of myself, it became increasingly important to me that I still feel like me even after surgery. And the thing I kept coming back to in order to do that was opting out of reconstruction. It isn’t the most commonly chosen option for women my age, but I knew it was what I wanted to do. Staying flat just felt right.
It was surprising to me how much I ended up just needing to listen to my gut when it came to making these incredibly difficult and life-altering decisions. I sought counsel from others who knew me well or had gone through this all before; I prayed for wisdom from the God I believe in. But in the end, the answers I needed were buried inside myself – I just had to unearth what my body already knew. When I tapped into my physical intuition and truly considered what would allow me to move forward with peace and hope, my acceptance of the situation and confidence in my decisions flourished.
Of course, as surgery drew near, I found myself waffling, unsure and scared. Was I overreacting? Was I going too far? Was I doing enough? I felt so uncertain at times that I just wanted to call everything off. My husband, kids, and extended family kept me going, reminding me of why I was having surgery in the first place and that there was a good life waiting for me on the other side.
I’m now 11 weeks post-op, beginning hormone replacement therapy, styling my new flat chest, and healing up, physically and emotionally. I will never be the same because of my BRCA mutation. But I’m not stagnant or defeated. I am becoming a better version of myself, taking on a new form, coming into my own, and growing stronger every day.