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?