My mother was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer when I was eight years old and she was only 43. She had no idea that the BRCA1 gene ran in our family, but when she was diagnosed, she found out she had a 50/50 chance of passing it along to me, her scared 8-year-old daughter.
My mother fought hard for years and now counts herself as a 15-year survivor. However, she did pass her gene along to me. I found out I was positive for the BRCA1 gene when I was 19 years old and, after the MRI and biopsy that immediately followed, I also found out I had a mass in my left breast. It was a radial scar - a rare mass diagnosed in only one of every 15,000 people tested.
After knowing my chances of developing breast cancer at 22 years old were almost as certain as the sun rising the next day, I told my doctors to go ahead and perform the double mastectomy. This is usually the part of the story where people ask me, “Was it a hard decision?” I always say no, because I feel as though there never was any choice to make. The surgery was going to happen. I only got to choose if it was at 19 or later at 22. I suppose I grew up with the mentality of “I wonder WHEN I’ll go through what my mother did,” rather than “I wonder IF I’ll go through what my mother did.” But when faced with even the slightest choice of “now or then,” I chose now.
So that’s what happened. I had a double mastectomy at the age of 19, making me the youngest person in the state of Mississippi to ever undergo the surgery and it changed my life in many ways. Most profoundly, it brought me peace. I no longer have to worry about going through chemotherapy treatments, or if I will get diagnosed with breast cancer. It gave me my life.
Yes, my gene mutation still raises my risk of ovarian cancer, and I go for testing every year. Yes, I still worry if ovarian cancer will come before I have the chance to have children. Yes, I worry daily about the chance I have of passing the BRCA1 Gene along to my children. But I would rather live worrying about one cancer than two, and I would rather know how to help and guide my future children through something I myself went through than have no wisdom at all. That is something I learned from watching my mom guide me.
My advice to those with breast cancer diagnosis in their families, is to always be vigilant, no matter your age. Take aggressive measures and do what you have to bring peace of mind. Remember that being positive for the BRCA1 gene does not mean you’re doomed, but also that if you are negative, it does not mean you that can’t develop breast cancer. Genetic diagnoses are not death sentences, but warnings. They are yellow caution lights, not red stop signs. Early detection can never be too early and saving your life can never be something done too soon. Take it from the girl who learned how to live at 19.