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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bills... billsfan1104

Both those genes came out negative for me and I still have breast cancer. I do not know how I feel about this. My breast surgeon, had me keep my healthy breast and removed the other one. I personally don't think people should have surgery, unless it is absolutely necessary. But that is only my opinion. It is yours and your family's decision. Good Luck and make sure you are taken care of. You have your hard days and good days, as you already know. God Bless

Shannon Nolan

You are a my hero. You are an amazing inspiration. My prayers go out to you and your family.

EmmaF... EmmaFromEire

You're incredibly brave. I think i would do the same, knowing how much the gene utation affects cancer rates. Best of luck to you, i admire your courage.

Fondue Fondue

Joanna, I applaud your strength in making this decision.  My cousin had a prophylactic double mastectomy last year and blogged about the process.  She shared pictures every step of the way.  Now she has a fabulous pair of breasts that she doesn't have to worry about in the future.  Best wishes to you!

Mooki... MookiesMom739

I applaud your decision, especially since you have already fought or are still fighting another form of cancer.  Do whatever it takes , to be around to parent and love that lil girl of yours... My prayers are with you and your family. My older sister is a breast cancer survivor. You are all my heroes.

mande... manderspanders

Breast cancer runs on my mother's side.  My mom offered to be tested for the gene for me, so I know if I need to be tested and what my risk is.  I told her not to; this was several years ago, and I stand by that decision.  Basically, there isn't anything more that I can do beyond self exams, mammograms, exercise, healthy eating; and removing my breasts isn't an option (and I don't believe in that "previvor" bullshit).  I also told her that if we knew the genetic risk, there is always a chance that insurance companies could refuse to cover treatment for breast cancer should I get it; because we all know they try to find a way out of paying for things...and I do still believe that to be a possibility, especially as testing becomes more common.

Great for you to make the decision - you situation is unique and I don't blame you for not wanting to go through hell again after dealing with all you have.  But for the rest of us, I think it is a rather extreme option; and one that I wouldn't choose in spite of my risk factors.

nonmember avatar Amy C

I just had the test done 2 days ago. I did have breast cancer, as did my mother, so I did the test mostly for my daughters' health. A double mastectomy and removal of ovaries has already been brought up. Best of luck to you!

Eryn Powell

I am 25 years old and had a preventative double mastectomy because I have the BRCA2 gene. It is the best decision I have made for myself. My sense of relief makes it so worth it. I document my journey at wwwww.highriskhumor.com

Patti Hughes

I think it's a very personal decision ~ as far as for Me, I would have them removed. Without me being alive I wouldn't have breasts anyway.

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