The ordeal that followed my breast cancer scare is finally over.
A quick recap: last February, doctors discovered a mass in my right breast during a routine mammogram. I was 34–the same age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer–and I hadn’t felt a thing during my monthly self-exams. I was shocked.
After an ultrasound and four mammograms, I learned that the type of precancerous atypia (or cell abnormality) that I had was no joke. With my diagnosis, and my family history of breast cancer, I elected to have BRCA testing. Ironically it’s a two-second blood test, which seems laughably simple for such a serious test.
A lot of you have asked me questions about the testing, so I consulted my physician–Rachel Wellner, MD, a breast health expert and breast surgeon in New York City–for some information that I could share with you. (Of course, you should consult your doctor as well!)
Here’s what Dr. Wellner said (the rest of my story is below):
We all have two BRCA genes, BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, that function as tumor suppressors. When either of these genes are mutated, a genetic condition that can be passed on from generation to generation, the affected carrier is at greater risk for developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. When a woman tests positive for the gene, her lifetime risk of developing breast cancer goes from 12% (average risk) to 40-80%; her ovarian cancer risk increases from 1% to 20-60%. When either a man or a woman is BRCA positive, he or she has a 50/50 chance of passing the abnormal gene on to each of his or her offspring.
BRCA testing isn’t for everyone. If you were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 45, and/or you have a family member who was diagnosed with breast cancer under age 50, for example, you should talk to your doctor about the possibility of undergoing testing, as well as the consequences of the test results.
For more information on testing, as well as additional indicators for testing, go to BreastCancer.org.
When Dr. Wellner gave me this information, she drew pictures and explained what a positive test result would mean for my future. She discussed regular screenings through mammograms and MRIs, as well as medication and (gulp) prophylactic mastectomies and oophorectomy (ovarian removal).
To be honest, I was running on so much adrenaline that I didn’t even process half the information that she gave me until later. Mason and I had been up most of the night dealing with teething pain, and I had a ton of nervous energy stored up after having to wait a month to see the doctor.
But the M word stuck with me. The thought of having to undergo a mastectomy scares the h-ll out of me, and I imagine I’m in good company. I was eight-years-old when my mother had one, and I still remember the tears and the scars and the staples and the surgical drains. I don’t ever want Mason to see me go through that.
However, I told Dr. Wellner that I was willing to do whatever it took to keep myself healthy and alive as long as possible for my son. If feel that as a mother, it’s my job to honor and protect my good health. And since this highly recommended doctor was advising BRCA testing, I was going to do it.
I got my blood test that day, went back to work, picked up Mason after school and did our nighttime routine–and then let myself sob after he went to bed. There was no question in my mind that I had done the right thing by getting the test, but it was still terrifying. Based on my personal and family history, I was preparing my for the worst. Later I would learn that Chris was, too.
We waited three weeks for the test results. Then, by the grace of God, I learned that my BRCA test was negative. Chris, Mason, and I went out to dinner that night to celebrate. I had my precancerous breast mass removed a few days later, followed by a mammogram two weeks ago and an MRI last week.
I saw Dr. Wellner this afternoon, and she said that all is well. I’ll see her again in six months for a check-up, but I won’t need to get another mammogram or MRI for a year. I feel so grateful and lucky and thankful right now. This good fortune is such a blessing.
Photo: Breast cancer pink ribbon via OttnaYdur/Shutterstock.com