I do not have the BRCA gene but MY genetic counselor said that my lifetime risk was 25% to 40%

By:Shayna O’Kelley
My mom is a 10 year breast cancer survivor and her sister had stage three breast cancer before her. My mom had radiation and a lumpectomy, and my aunt had chemo, a mastectomy, lost all her hair, and took tamoxifen after the chemo.

I had my first breast biopsy on my 26th birthday and have had annual mammograms ever since. I’m now 42 and have had three surgical biopsies, a duct excised, one needle biopsy, and had genetic testing this year. Though I do not have the BRCA gene, because of my history, my family history, and dense breast tissue, my genetic counselor said that my lifetime risk was 25% to 40%. My options were to do biannual screening, alternating between MRI and mammogram; taking tamoxifen, which was out of the question due to seeing its effects on my aunt and the antidepressants I take; and the third option was a bilateral mastectomy.

I had one breast MRI and, after feeling like a dairy cow in the machine, decided that I didn’t want to have another. The tests, coupled with the anxiety of waiting for results, were enough to make the decision an easy one.

I saw a surgeon and decided to have a total bilateral mastectomy, meaning they take all the breast tissue, including the nipples. I plan to have tissue transfer reconstruction, where the surgeon will take fat from my stomach and use it to reconstruct my breasts. So, it’s not all bad. I get a tummy tuck out of the deal! 😉 I have the option of having tattooed nipples once I’m healed, but I think I’d rather have unicorns.

I’ll have spacers and drains in the first surgery and later, I will have the second surgery to do the tissue transfer. I will be out of commission for four weeks, unable to lift more than 5 pounds for the first two weeks and 10 pounds for the second two.

I am a week out from surgery and I am a ball of anxiety. It is, without question, the right decision, but I’m still nervous. By sharing my story, I hope to give someone else the courage to explore all the options and make an informed decision.

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