It would be so much easier if this was just breast cancer; cut it out, treat it, (hopefully) fuggedaboutit.
It would have been lumpectomy, chemo, radiation and hormone therapy.
Instead, I have the BRAC2 gene mutation so things got a lot more complicated.
Sound familiar? It’s the Angelina Jolie gene. But instead of sharing the same chiselled cheekbones or long legs with the Hollywood actress, she and I dubiously share the risk of a much higher-than-average chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer.
Jolie made headlines when she preemptively removed her breasts and ovaries to lessen her risk.
But I’ve already got breast cancer, so there you go, I’m good. Yeah, I thought that too. But my risk of developing another primary breast cancer were still frighteningly high and that was when my doctors started talking about a mastectomy.
Which scared me, because I was quite attached to my breasts. Literally.
The other option was a yearly mammogram, MRI and appointments with my oncologist and breast surgeon for manual examinations. That’s four times a year I’d have my breasts checked, but I still didn’t feel safe knowing that the cancer was lurking dormant deep within my breast tissue, just waiting to come back. It was like having a guillotine hanging over me, knowing that although it was safely secured it could release at any moment, without warning.
I knew what I needed to do, but it wasn’t an easy decision to make
When Jolie explained her decision to remove her breasts, she was described as being brave. I just thought she was being practical. If you know that you will one day contract the same disease that decimated the lives of the women in your family, you’d do something about it so that you can be there to watch your own family grow up.
Now here I was, being faced with that same practical decision.
What tipped me over was talking to three separate women who had had breast cancer twice, about a decade apart. What terrified me most was that none of these women had the BRAC1 or 2 genes.
The thing about breast cancer is that there is more than one kind. Just because I had an ER+ tumor in my left breast didn’t mean I couldn’t develop an triple negative tumor in my right breast.
So six weeks ago I had a double mastectomy and reconstruction.
It’s no guarantee that I won’t get another tumor, but my risk is now minimal and I only need annual appointments with my breast surgeon.
The second part of a BRAC2 diagnosis is ovarian cancer, which scares me more than breast cancer.
It’s stealthier, sneakier and deadlier. Even with six-monthly exams, if they find something the chances are high it will already be stage two. If you’re unfamiliar with the stages of cancer it goes something like this; one is early, two is progressing, three is advanced, four you’re fucked.
Like Jolie, I will one day remove my ovaries, but I hope that won’t be for another decade.