By: Jamie Pribyl
My name is Jamie Pribyl, I am a Doctor of Physical Therapy, and I am the founder of The BRCA Boss. I found out that I was BRCA1+ after having my ﬁrst son when I was 30 years old. I always ﬁgured I had the genetic mutation, because my mom had breast cancer at the age of 45 and my Aunt had it at the age of 29. Back then however, insurance didn’t cover the testing, and if I found out I was positive, then I was terriﬁed that no insurance carrier would cover me due to my pre-existing condition.
So, I just took care of myself as best as I could. I was an athlete in high school and have just continued working out since then. I have always eaten healthy, and as I got older, I realized the importance of using non-toxic household items around the house. For a while, I thought all these things were good enough. I wasn’t super interested in getting tested.
When I was pregnant with my son however, we decided to have genetic testing done on my son so we wouldn’t have any surprises. It was when I went in for the testing that the doctor found out about my mother’s breast cancer history. He really pushed the fact that I should go see a genetic counselor to determine if I should get tested for the gene.
In the visit with the genetic counselor, I was told it was to determine if I should get tested at all. Within the ﬁrst 10 minutes, it quickly turned into HOW many tests should I get? There has been a lot of breast cancer in my family, on my mother and father’s side. So, I opted to get the BRCA test. It’s the one that has the most increased risk of cancer, so I opted for only that one. Well, it came back positive.
My husband and I knew we wanted more children, so there wasn’t much to do at that time. I had to ﬁnish breast feeding my son before I could get my ﬁrst mammogram, so I made sure to get one before getting pregnant with my other son. I knew I had to make a decision of what I wanted to do with the information at some time, but not then. So I put it in the back of my mind and decided not to worry about it at that time. Three years later, once I ﬁnished breast feeding my second son, I knew it was time to start thinking about what I wanted to do with the information. I knew they recommended getting the ovaries out between 35-40, so I wanted to wait until I was closer to that age. Once I was about to turn 35, I started researching. I didn’t think I was going to get a mastectomy at that time.
You see, since I am a physical therapist, I see a lot of people who have had surgery. General orthopedic surgeries people tend to recovery well from… torn ACLs, labral repairs, menisectomies. However, I have seen a lot of failed surgeries as well. I have seen a lot of people that have had a lot of trauma to their bodies and later in life have a lot of complications. So I was really scared to have surgery, especially one that was “optional.” I knew how scary ovarian cancer can be, so I thought maybe I would just get my ovaries out. I wanted to get multiple doctor’s opinions, however when I really wanted to see physicians to get opinions, I couldn’t get in to see anyone because I “didn’t have cancer.” It was very odd, and actually must have been fate, because I got sent to Stanford since no one would see me in Reno. It was there that I learned about the DIEP FLAP reconstruction.
I ﬁgured this would be a better option for me, as I am more of a naturalist and I had recently learned about breast implant illness. Although I know not everyone gets sick from their implants, I just didn’t want that risk when I was trying to reduce my risk of cancer.
I struggled with making the decision whether or not to go through with it for over a year. It was honestly one of the hardest decisions of my life. It was stressing me out to the max. My poor husband had to deal with me asking over and over again what he thought I should do. He was so supportive of me. He was 100% behind me no matter what I decided.
So, I ﬁnally did it. I had the double mastectomy with immediate DIEP FLAP reconstruction, and I am doing great! And while I was preparing for surgery, I realized that I had a wealth of knowledge about the human body that was going to help me get ready for surgery, as well as heal from it. I started pre-habbing for my surgery months before I had it. I know as a physical therapist, that the stronger and more ﬂexible patients go into surgery, the faster they get better after surgery. I realized a lot of women may not know this. And then, once in my online support groups, I saw so many women asking what exercises they should be doing? Some women never got sent to physical therapy, or if they did, they weren’t sent until later. When I had my surgery, they didn’t want me going in for physical therapy for 6 weeks. They did, however, approve me to do gentle range of motion exercises on day 12. Well, what if I didn’t know which exercises to do? Sure, range of motion. I pictured women immediately trying to raise their arms overhead. I tried myself just to see how it would go… and it hurt!
I know the protocols. I know to start with passive range of motion, then active assisted range of motion, and then active. I know that once I start strengthening I need to strengthen my upper back and not my chest so that I can get good posture back. Other women may not know this. And with COVID right now… people can’t even get into physical therapy!
So I decided to create an online platform of post-mastectomy exercises. Now, I am a FIRM believer in going to see a physical therapist. The manual techniques we can do to help women post-mastectomy is unbelievable. I feel that every women who has this surgery should have proper body work after to release adhesions and improve fascial mobility. However, I also understand that some people don’t have access to a physical therapist. Maybe the surgery costs so much that they can’t aﬀord a co-pay 2-3 times a week for 6 weeks. Maybe they can’t get the time oﬀ of work since they just took so much time oﬀ to heal from surgery.
So, I decided to record what I have been doing to recover from surgery, and oﬀer it to others for a small fee. This is NOT your classic physical therapy. I do not consult, evaluate, diagnose or treat people. But I have recorded what I did post-surgery and teach people in my videos how to do them. It is a wellness program, not physical therapy since I am not licensed outside of the state of Nevada. I ask all women to get the ok to do these exercises from their physicians, as every physician has a diﬀerent protocol for when to do certain exercises.
I named my online personality The BRCA Boss. Because I don’t want BRCA to be the boss of me, I will be the boss of my future. I’m taking the information I have and doing something about it. And I am helping others along the way… because in the end, we women need to stick together and support one another, right?