Allison Gilbert does not have breast cancer. But she got a preventative mastectomy anyway. And she did it for her kids. Allison explains her decision in an essay for CNN:
The decision to have surgery without having cancer wasn't easy, but it seemed logical to me. My mother, aunt and grandmother have all died from breast or ovarian cancer, and I tested positive for the breast cancer gene.
Put in those stark terms, I can see why Allison would want to take preventative measures. But wow, a pre-emptive mastectomy is so radical! And it's not the only radical procedure Allison got.
Before she even thought about a mastectomy, Allison had her ovaries removed, too -- after she had two children. She and her husband decided they were finished having children at that point. But having her ovaries removed meant going through menopause at the age of 37.
Allison deliberated a long time over the idea of getting a mastectomy. And then she agonized over how to do it and with which surgeons. Worst of all, she couldn't talk these questions over with her mother or aunt. Both had died from cancer. And that's what finally clicked for Allison.
Then a moment of bittersweet grace clarified what I needed to do. It struck me that the reason I couldn't speak to my mother and aunt is exactly the reason I had to have the surgery.
She didn't want her own children to face life's most difficult challenges without her the way she was facing them without her mother. There have been some incredibly exciting recent developments in the way breast cancer is treated. But Allison didn't want to wait for them because, as she put it, "I love them [her children and husband] more than my chest."
I'm still amazed. Getting a mastectomy is a big deal -- way more complicated than I'd ever realized, now that I've read Allison's story. She's lucky that she had the resources to do this and that she could afford to have options. Do any health insurance companies cover preventative mastectomies -- and the reconstruction surgery? I wonder.
But I think Allison would have literally cut off her own breasts even if she couldn't afford reconstruction surgery just to keep herself alive a little longer for her family. That's something I think almost any mom can understand. It's not an easy sacrifice, but it's a worthwhile sacrifice.
Would you be willing to do what Allison did if you tested positive for a cancer gene?
Image via Tessa Ann's Buttons/Flickr