I was fresh out of high school when I found a lump in my left breast in my breast during a shower. My heart jumped up to my throat. I felt my stomach drop and begin to churn in a way that felt like it was in the hands of someone who was crushing it into their hands. Immediately, I was scheduled for a Lumpectomy, it came back benign.
Then again at 22-years-old, I had to undergo another Lumpectomy. Again, thankfully it was benign. I began to research my likelihood of cancer and soon discovered that things weren’t looking so good. On both sides of my family, I had strong links to cancer.
My maternal grandmother and her two sisters had breast cancer. My maternal grandfather had lung and prostate cancer. My paternal grandmother had breast and ovarian cancer, and my paternal grandfather had prostate cancer. I am also of Ashkenazi Jewish descendant.
The Center for Jewish Genetics states that “approximately 1 in 40 individuals of Ashkenazi descent is a carrier for a BRCA mutation, leaving those individuals at a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. This is compared to mutation frequency of 1 in 500 in the general population.” This severely stacked the odds against me.
At 22-years-old I heard the scary truth that I was positive for BRCA2. I was devastated. It saddened and worried me enormously to learn I had this gene. Once my surgeon received the results he gave me sound advice and then sent me off to genetics.
From the doctor’s standpoint, he could only do preventative surgery. After doing some serious digging around on the Internet for many hours and losing sleep, I finally found the physician that I felt could offer me more. Upon her advice, I also saw an oncologist, gynecologist, genetics, surgeons and plastic surgeons.
I questioned whether I should’ve gotten tested for BRCA or left it as is. I honestly wasn’t sure if I made the right decision. At the time, I was dating my now ex-husband. I am extremely grateful to have had him by my side. He has been one of my main supporters from day one and I cannot even begin to express just how blessed I was to him there through it all.
15 years after my doctors visit of them finding a lump in my breast, I underwent a hysterectomy through a robotic-assisted da Vinci Surgery. This technique is performed by a skilled surgeon allowing for minimally invasive surgery, done through a few small incisions in the body or through a small belly button incision.
I stayed overnight in the hospital and was able to go home the next day. I did have one hiccup where I had a seroma and an infection. I used lots of orange butter and orange essential oils and they cleared right up. This procedure was relatively easy and left my minimal scars if any.
Four months later I had a prophylactic (preventative) double mastectomy. I was lucky enough to participate in a clinical trial with airXpanders, which is a new technology of expansion after your mastectomy. I did end up with 3 surgeries on my breast but, I am healthy. The first surgery was the prophylactic mastectomy with expanders, followed 2 months later with removing one of the expanders and replacing it with a saline expander and lastly the reconstruction. My biggest fear was not being able to use my nipples. I didn’t want to go through the rest of my life without them. Luckily, I found the company Naturally Impressive. They make silicone nipple-areola prosthetics that look incredibly real and stay securely in place. It’s a super easy process. All you have to do is create molds of your nipples and send the molds to them.
Overall, my experience with my surgeries could have been worse and I’m grateful that in the end things worked out well for me. It’s not at all to say though that the surgeries were a breeze, of course!
There were definitely hard times, but it was all worth it. Not only for my own health but as well as for the sake of my two children I no longer have to be afraid of not being there for them. I also get to inspire so many women and encourage them to not stop living because they are positive with BRCA. Most importantly though I get to empower women to continue to love themselves and their bodies.