I'm Having a Double Mastectomy -- Even Though My Breasts Are Healthy

I recently found out that I have the BRCA1 genetic mutation. And even though I've recently gone through a hell of a year of intense treatment for widespread gynecologic cancer, I am now facing the fact that I am at very high risk for breast cancer. Like really high risk. I'm told that there is an 87 percent chance that I'll contract breast cancer in my lifetime. And although at age 45, I've already lived through part of my lifetime risk, those odds are still uncomfortably high.

According to the National Cancer Institute, prophylactic mastectomy in high-risk women may reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 90 percent. As I see it, I didn't go through 3 surgeries, 24 rounds of aggressive chemotherapy, and a year of fighting my way back to health just to have another form of cancer come in the back door and take me out. Fuck that. This is why, when told that I could voluntarily remove my healthy breasts in order to save my life, I didn't hesitate to say "I will."

Now, there's certainly some grief wrapped up in this decision, and I do not take it lightly. In the days and weeks since I received the news, I notice that I'm looking at and thinking about my breasts with a bit of melancholy. These breasts have been with me for 45 years after all. And we've been through a lot together. And as much as I may have griped about their size or placement or perkiness over the years, I've grown quite fond of them (as has my husband). 

They were there when I let the first boy go to second base in the front seat of his car in my parents' driveway (sorry, Mom and Dad). They've been through multiple relationships and given me great pleasure along the way. They helped me learn what I like sexually. They've been with me through my experimental phases. They've enhanced countless outfits; they've been sprinkled with glitter and slathered with shimmery oils and lotions. They've been pushed up with bustiers and displayed on nude beaches. They've baked in the sun and been burned and tanned and freckled.

They've endured hundreds of self-exams and dozens of less than pleasant mammograms. They've been pushed and prodded and biopsied, but always come through like champs.

They've ached with my periods and been swollen and full of milk. 

They fed my daughter, until I had to start chemotherapy and stop breastfeeding.

So now I (and my husband) will say goodbye to them. But I don't feel sorry for myself. Not even a little bit. Because all of us who have been touched by cancer know that we'll do whatever it takes to live.

I have met and heard the stories of many fellow sojourners who have lost their breasts and more and kept on going. In addition to breasts, they've lost arms and legs and hands and feet. They've lost their eyes and they've lost their voices. They've lost their reproductive organs. They've lost their testicles. But they have adapted and moved on. And thrived.

They are bad-asses, and they are my heroes. Because of them, I do not hesitate to do the next right thing. To do whatever it takes.

If you learned you had the cancer gene, what would YOU do?


Images top to bottom: TipsTimes/Flickr; MoveTheClouds/Flickr

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eupeptic eupeptic

I'd go to one or more medical intuitives (search Google) (or spiritual mediums) to see what they have to say as well as ask about the likely outcomes based on the different decisions there are to choose from (e.g., changing my diet, cancer treatment, breast removal, and doing nothing [as a control to compare the other options to]). (I personally can communicate with my spirit guide [and anyone else's if I want to, or if they want me to do that for them] so I have a fair amount of experience learning about the various potential outcomes of my life in the future. [Predictions of your future can be known based on any of the different choices you may make in life... so we don't have to be afraid of what the future may hold for us if we choose to seek out this knowledge and use it to make enlightened decisions.])

Angel Butterfli

I HAD THE SAME SURGERY AT AGE 48, OCT. 2, 2009. BEST DECISION MY HUSBAND & I COULD HAVE MADE. I SAY WE ARE A HERO'S. I'M STILL HERE TO STILL SPIN TIME WITH MY FAMILY & FRIENDS. THANKING GOD FOR ALL THE BLESSINGS :)

Kathy Redlin Fitzhenry

I think you are a very brave women who most definitely did her research. I have not been tested yet but I feel I need to - I have had cervical, thyroid and my latest was breast cancer. My mom had BC, my sister and my paternal grandmother, all different types. When I was given my BC diagnosis I immediately opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy, and I have not regretted that decision. God bless you!

nonmember avatar efromma

I am currently going through genetic counseling and have decided to get tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2. My mother died from ovarian cancer and my father's mother died from it as well. My mother tested negative for the mutation but my grandmother, who died in 1977, would have had no way of knowing if she was a carrier. Therefore, I can't rule out whether I am a carrier as well. It is a very personal decision. Choosing to go forward with testing has made me feel strangely empowered. I know that if I don't get tested I'm still going to worry about the "unknown" and for me ignorance is not bliss. I'm still going to remember how my mother suffered and wonder if I'm doing everything in my control to prevent this disease from taking over my own body. She battled her cancer for almost 4 years but those last few weeks of her fragile life have left permanent scars on my family. For me, knowledge is power and if I test positive I've been told that the recommendation is to remove my ovaries at age 40 (as well as address my risk for breast cancer). If I test negative the clinical rec still is to remove my ovaries but at age 46 (10 years before the age my mother was diagnosed). It won't be an easy process but I know I must do it. Like you said in your inspiring post: until there is a better screening method, or a cure, we have to do whatever it takes.

Kathy Driskill Turner

I am a Breast Cancer Survivor myself. Although they only found cancer in 1 breast I made the decision to go for the bi-lateral. What were the chances of it showing up in the other breast in 6 wks, 6 yrs or whenever, I was not taking any chances. I had reconstruction surgery, got 2 new nipples with tattooed aeroli ( I wanted sunfloweres..but my plastic surgeon said "No" he probably would lose is MD License). So now I have 2 brand new (7 yrs old)breasts and get another set in 14 yrs (get a new set every 20 yrs). What more can a girl ask FOR..No sagging, no laying on the bed next to me, no unconfortable bras and the men I date dont seem to mind. God Bless You and Genetic Testing.

Stef Raber Parthemore

I also found out I have the BRCA1 gene, after having been through Breast cancer surgery, chemotherapy and radiation along with Hormone therapy. Upon finding out that I tested positive for BRCA1, my breast surgeon recommended that I have a double mastectomy and have my ovaries removed. I did both so that I wouldn't have a recurrence of Breast cancer OR a bout with Ovarian cancer. Now, I have spent over 2 yrs having surgeries for reconstruction of the breasts. I have had MRSA twice and multiple surgeries to repair damage done by the MRSA. It has been a very long journey. I wish you nothing but good health!

nonmember avatar rebekah

a tumor is the body's self-preservation technique. toxins float around and if enough, would just kill you on the spot, but the body gathers it into a tumor, so you can survive. if you cut out a body part, the imbalance/tumor will just go somewhere else. how about some other preventative methods: revise diet, exercise, reduce stress, etc. in any case, best of luck to you!

Rachel Dixon-Makrucki

I am going through genetic testing for Lynch Syndrome which has upwards of an 80% chance for certain cancers. It was recommended that if I do test positive that I have a total hysterectomy. I am only 30 but if it comes back positive I will have the procedure done. I know that I will mourn because it will mean no more babies but I have to be here for the one I already have.

Freedom Fromtyranny

great attitude

Heres to your good greater and best health

nonmember avatar Amberish2002

Strength. Will. Who knows what we do when in a situation until we are there...You have amazing courage to make this decision and to those who have nerve to criticize ... Hope that they are never faced with the same odds.

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