I was a junior in college when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am the oldest of four children, and my youngest siblings were just freshmen in high school. My main concern was for my mother, but my thoughts often drifted to worrying about my siblings. They were so very young to be dealing with such a tough diagnosis. They diagnosed my mother out of sheer luck and persistence by a close family friend. Despite feeling a distinguishable mass, her mammography and ultrasound were both read as normal. My family has a strong history of fibrocystic breasts, so it wasn’t uncommon to find lumps or bumps. However, this mass seemed different, and it was. My mom is a nurse and she decided along with her doctor to continue with a biopsy regardless of the previous results. She was diagnosed with breast cancer in a couple of weeks. Our family was lucky, countless others are not.
My healthcare providers have always hated doing breast exams on me. My breasts feel like two jello molds full of marbles and clumps. The spots are hormonal and fluctuate as much as my mood. Last fall, at 32 years young, my healthcare provider found the first mass that really concerned us. It was deep and dense. I blew it off as nothing more than that I was probably about to start my period. She scheduled me for an exam at the local oncology breast care center. I made plans for my grandmother to come stay with my son and many of my friends asked if I wanted someone to go with me. I shrugged them off and went alone. I was bounced around that morning from mammography to ultrasound, and back, several times the day of my appointment. It dawned on me during my third exam room move that they could diagnose me with breast cancer, and I had come alone.
Regardless of the results, my mother’s history and her own personal circumstance always stood out in my mind. My family history for breast cancer extends far beyond just my mother. I decided that day my breasts needed to go. Was my vanity worth the worry or the possibility of watching my child lose his mother to a disease which could have been prevented? Reconstruction would be great, but not having breasts didn’t define me as a woman; my sister had already undergone a breast biopsy at 20 years old.
I have seen several news articles claiming that Angelina Jolie’s prophylactic mastectomy could cause a heightened awareness among women and create a trend toward more women wanting the surgery. My question for those authors would be: have you ever witnessed a family member or friend be diagnosed and treated for breast cancer? How would you deal with testing positive for the genetic mutation that can predispose you to breast cancer? Angelina Jolie didn’t just test positive for the BRCA mutation, her mother died of ovarian cancer. It should be left up to the healthcare provider and the individual to decide what preventive measures are necessary. The prophylactic mastectomy surgery alone can be emotionally tough without adding public guilt. The cost of a prophylactic mastectomy can be done at a fraction of treatment costs and radiation treatments can often damage skin so severely that reconstruction is impossible. I want to say thank to Angelina Jolie for not just telling women it is okay, but setting an example. It is good to be proactive about your health and I am looking forward to my own surgery.
In support of Angelina Jolie and countless other women facing similar circumstance, why don’t you help to contribute to the fight against breast cancer?
You could share this story to help spread awareness. There are several large charities including The Breast Cancer Charities of America, The Susan G. Komen Foundation, National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc., and the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute which support breast cancer research and treatment. Women must remain vigilant and proactive until a cure is found.