Two years ago, my dad was diagnosed with breast cancer. Bizarre news to say the least. They caught it very early, Stage 1. It wasn't metastatic so he had a double mastectomy, underwent chemo treatment and has been cancer free since. Because it’s so rare for a man to get breast cancer, he decided to undergo genetic testing to see if he might have a mutation. The results came back with a positive BRCA2 mutation, which carries with it an increased risk for breast, ovarian, prostate, and pancreatic cancers, among others.
Since my dad’s results came back positive for a mutation, insurance covered my sister and me getting tested. I got tested immediately and unfortunately came back positive for the exact same mutation my dad had. I made the decision almost immediately not to waste any time and started making the necessary doctor’s appointments to discuss my own preventative mastectomy.
In December of last year, I had the uncomfortable privilege of experiencing my first mammogram and breast MRI prior to meeting with surgeons, and thankfully both of those scans came back clear. I scheduled breast surgeon and plastic surgeon consultations to discuss my options.
I should mention that I have one son who’s 2 and a half years old. We’d really like to have one more kiddo and I mentioned this to all my doctors. Because I breastfed my son, which I’m told helps to minimize a risk for breast cancer, both my OB and my breast surgeon said that since my scans were clear, we could go ahead and try for another baby.
My biggest nightmare would be getting a cancer diagnosis while pregnant. Plus I’m 36, right at the age where this type of thing can crop up. Everything in my gut was telling me not to wait, so I went ahead with scheduling the surgery for April 2018, four months after I had my scans done. Surgery went really well – no complications, and despite feeling like a huge step to take emotionally, physically it wasn’t as difficult or painful as I was expecting, so that was a relief.
The week after my surgery I got a call from my breast surgeon with some surprising news. The routine pathology from the surgery showed that there actually was a small, Stage 1 tumor in my left breast. No spreading whatsoever and the tumor was removed entirely with clear margins. This knocked the wind out of me. Just four months prior my scans were clear. I was feeling a million things at once, first angry and scared. I had made this extreme decision so I wouldn’t have to deal with cancer, and despite my best efforts, I had gotten it anyway.
I slowly and stubbornly I made my way toward feeling grateful. Especially as I started seeking out stories of other women who were dealing with or had dealt with cancer. My case has an excellent prognosis. The type of tumor (Her2+), is almost never found in early stages because it’s aggressive and spreads quickly. The fact that it was completely out of my body and hadn’t spread was a blessing. It was a blessing that I never had to know that I had cancer while it was still in my body. I got to avoid the anxiety of waiting for biopsy results and doctor’s appointments.
My oncologist and many others agreed that I should still go through chemotherapy, which I wasn’t thrilled about. My doc explained that if any of the cells had somehow gotten somewhere else in my body, it wouldn’t be somewhere as easily removable as my breasts and could be much harder to treat. So I’m doing the chemo because my main goal is to be here on this earth as long as I possibly can.
The hardest side effect of chemo is, of course, the hair loss. I lost my hair much sooner than I was prepared for, only 2 weeks after my first treatment. I realized that for some unknown reason, I was holding onto hope that I’d be one of the small percentages of people who don’t experience alopecia as a side effect of chemo. I think it was a combination of losing it so fast and feeling foolish for secretly hoping for a different outcome, but the night it started happening, I cried. A lot. But the next day I felt a little better and called my hair stylist and made an appointment to shave it all off. Each day since has been better and better.
I’m still not completely confident enough to wear my bare, slightly patchy head in public. I'm thankful that I proactively bought some head wraps (FROM THE WRAP LIFE!) before it happened. The cherry on top for me is that having beautiful headdress that fits my personal style allows me to look and feel like a person making a bold style choice rather than looking like a person who’s sick. Making the decision to buzz my head and having the wraps ready and waiting helped me feel like I had some control in a situation where I’ve felt in many ways helpless. It gave me power, and I’d really like to share that with anyone else who needs some power of their own.