The story typically goes "mother, grandmother, aunt diagnosed with breast cancer = rest of family put on high alert"... but my story is so far from the norm and as a result my decision to undergo preventative breast and ovarian cancer surgeries was made well before I found out I was a BRCA2 gene mutation carrier.
Breast cancer infiltrated itself into my life slowly and slyly: first my older sister Carol was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 when she was 50 years old, but with no other history of breast cancer in our family her diagnosis was attributed to falling within the general population statistics.
My daughter Michelle was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 at the age of 28 and our world changed forever! Her diagnosis did not come easily and days turned into months following the dreaded words. At the onset Michelle was told she was too young to have breast cancer, go home (pat on the back) and follow-up with your physician. She pursued a second opinion that initially recommended returning in six months for follow up, to hmmmm...let me present your case to my colleagues, to "you have breast cancer!" And the roller coaster ride began.
"Momma bear" instincts took over: I became Michelle's advocate, her primary caregiver and even her own "Nurse Ratched" depending on the type of day she was having. I swear I felt each mastectomy surgery scar, chemotherapy side effect and snorkel radiation treatments along with her.
At the time Michelle was diagnosed, there was no "rapid BRCA gene testing option" offered to her and we were unaware that research now shows French Canadian families from Quebec (where my dad's family was from) were more susceptible than the general population to carry the BRCA1/2 genes. Seven months after Michelle completed cancer treatments, she and Carol underwent genetic testing and they both tested positive.
My positive results came in mid-March -- I was not surprised and my decision was already made. Being told that I had up to an 85 per cent chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer (versus up to 12 per cent in the general population) and a 50 per cent chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer (versus up to 2 per cent in the general population) I was determined to undergo ovary/fallopian tube removal as soon as possible (done within two weeks) and bilateral mastectomy (scheduled six weeks after Michelle's second mastectomy and done preventatively).
I was determined to do all that I possibly could to avoid going through what my sister and daughter had to endure! I was always at peace with my decision and those nearest to me offered me unconditional support.
While Michelle was in treatment, we spent much of our free time at Wellspring Cancer Support Network, a community based centre that provided physical support to Michelle and emotional support to the both of us. Society is more in tune with supporting cancer patients/survivors but there are less precedents for the caregivers, in my case the "momma" of a daughter diagnosed with this dreaded disease.
Although I did not have the opportunity to meet other "mommas" in my situation, Wellspring was my safe place, where I could express myself without being judged and where I received encouragement and sound guidance on decisions that needed to be made so that I could stay well and in turn support Michelle and myself through our journeys.
Undergoing preventative surgeries is a very personal decision; my choices give me hope that I will continue to be a wife, a daughter, a sister and a "momma." And for your information, Michelle, Carol and I are all doing well!
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