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


To add a comment, please log in with

Use Your CafeMom Profile

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Join CafeMom or Log in to your CafeMom account. CafeMom members can keep track of their comments.

Comment As a Guest

Guest comments are moderated and will not appear immediately.

Sarah York Mikesell

WIth odds like that, I'd have the surgery.  Boobs are cosmetic and replaceable... life is neither.

nonmember avatar Christy

@Joanna, you are amazing. Your strength and attitude are inspirational.
@Rebekah, your post is beyond frightening. Please stop giving medical advice. The thought that someone might believe you is terrifying.

fleur... fleurdelys3110

Joanna, you are so brave and I admire you so much. I think you are making the right decision as well. You can always get new breasts down the line, but the time you have with your daughter and husband is irreplaceable. Best of luck to you, and I wish you a speedy recovery.

MissF... MissFrenchie

You're my hero. I'm not sure I'd have the strength to do what you're doing. It takes an extraordinary person to face what you've faced and to do so with as much grace, honesty, and courage as you display in each and every post and video.

Beani... BeanieBlue

I haven't thought much about this before. The only person I've ever know with breast cancer is my SO's friend, Jonni.  She ended up having to have a bi-lateral mastectomy and went through complete HELL during her recuperation. Very, Very nice woman. Did not deserve this at all :-( But honestly...who DOES deserve something as hideus as cancer????  But she has since had reconstructive surgery and she's very happy with the results!

If I was given the diagnosis that I carried BRCA1, I know without a shadow of a doubt that I'd opt for the double mastectomy if it meant it would save my life in the long run. There's really no reason NOT to since you can have them reconstructed and look even BETTER!! lol

I wish you the very best, OP. You sound like one tough lady! I'm sure you'll come through all this with flying colors!! That fighting spirit is EXACTLY what you need right now!!

Sandy Baptist Burris

Joanna, I applaud your strength in making this decision. One of my supervisor made the same decision and had a double mastectomy about 4 years. Now she has a fabulous pair of breasts that she doesn't have to worry about in the future. God Bless you!

flowe... flowerfunleah

"Fuck that." lol I love you.

You go girl! You're beautiful with or without breasts! 

Nnee Nnee

Dear Joanna: I'm sobbing as I write this memo to you, because I feel like this cancer should give you a break. You are going through so much and my heart aches just thinking about what you still have to go through. I pray that this cancer goes away and you can enjoy your life happily and healthy. Thank you for your article. You do so much for us by giving your precious time and teaching us not only the informative side of this disease, but also teaching us how you deal with it through your amazing strenght. You're a true hero. 

mrswi... mrswillie

I think I would do the same

godde... goddess99

I wouldn't cut off my breasts.

21-30 of 37 comments First 1234 Last