By: Hannah Davenport
Hi, I’m Hannah! I’m a married 30-something with an incredible two-year-old who calls me Momma. I also happen to be a BRCA1 previvor. What does “previvor” mean? “Previvor” describes someone who has a predisposition to cancer (such as a diagnosed BRCA gene mutation) and has not yet had a cancer diagnosis. There are hundreds of known genetic mutations that may cause various cancers, and BRCA refers to the two identified Breast CAncer genes.
I first became aware of my family risk for breast cancer when I was a teenager. In my maternal grandfather’s family, there have been more than a dozen cancer diagnoses with three of my grandfather’s four sisters passing from breast or ovarian cancer. My grandfather passed in 2004 without ever having cancer, and it was 10 years ago that the first genetic test was performed on a member of my family that revealed our BRCA1 gene mutation. I was diagnosed with a BRCA1 gene mutation in February of 2018 and the options offered to me were: 1) do nothing, or at least do self-exams 2) increased screening intervals and advanced testing, or 3) preventative surgeries to drastically reduce my risk of breast and ovarian cancer. I became pregnant shortly after diagnosis, which put any immediate BRCA planning on hold. It would be more than a year before I began advanced breast screenings.
During the summer of 2019, I experienced intense anxiety leading up to and while waiting for my first MRI results. The news that my scan was clear did not actually reassure me. I felt as if I had entered a period of waiting, and that every scan was now a potential diagnosis. “Scanxiety” is the very real anxiety caused by cancer screenings that refers to the time period while awaiting test results. Following my summer 2020 mammogram, I received a highly unsettling call from my doctor’s office saying, “You have a couple of spots in your left breast and the radiologist would like to take a closer look.” After returning for more scans and (thankfully) learning it was a benign cyst, it was validation for me that having preventative surgery was my preferred option.
Not doing anything at all was definitely not the option for me. I take far more comfort in doing all that I can in terms of prevention; therefore I chose to fight breast cancer before it tries to fight me. In December, 2020, I made the best choice for me and underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with aesthetic flat closure. I did not choose typical breast reconstruction for several reasons; the primary of which is simply I did not care to go through any of the extra physical recovery, limitations, and complication risks that come from choosing these options. However, if that is the best choice for you, you have my full support. Our bodies, our choice. In regards to my body, I can say that not having breasts, nor even nipples, has not made me feel like something is missing. I do not believe our breasts or other body parts make us who we are as individuals. In fact, I remember coming out of anesthesia, recalling where and why I was there, bringing my hands to my bandaged chest and smiling. I smiled because I felt the transition of stress into peace. I can look down and no longer think, “Is today the day I find a lump?” That’s my peace though, and your peace may look different and that is entirely okay.
Three years ago following my BRCA1 positive diagnosis, I immediately went online to search out a group to commiserate with, except that’s not what I found. Instead, I came across BRCAStrong and found a community of incredibly strong, amazing women that were sharing their vulnerability within their stories. What I found was encouragement, support, empowerment, strength, love, and community. That is why I am sharing my story now. I am not alone. Know, you are not alone.
Highly Uncomfortable with Hannah
By: Hannah Davenport