Breast Cancer came to many American’s awareness when Betty Ford was diagnosed as First Lady. It was 1974 and it would be the year that my mother would start her battle with Breast Cancer right after my youngest brother was born. My mother had just turned 30 and at the time that was pretty much unheard of. Unlike today, there are countless cases of women under 40 with Breast Cancer.
Back then it was not something we spoke about. My husband remembers the shock waves that happened at the end of 1973 when Edith from All in the Family found a lump in an episode. Think about it, discussing any cancer—especially breast cancer—was taboo. In obituaries prior to the 1950s and 1960s, women who died from breast cancer were often listed as dying from a prolonged disease. With Betty Ford opening up and sharing her experiences — research was expanded, treatments transformed and testing options developed.
How Times Change
Flash forward to 2013 and when Angelina Jolie went in and had a preventative double mastectomy. My mother and I had a lengthy discussion about it and she discouraged me from testing for the BRCA gene. At the time she had already experienced Breast Cancer in her other breast and cervical cancer. Her attitude was caviler, that it was something to worry about when you get it and not before. It sat nagging in me until her death last October. Ultimately she died of stomach cancer, after enduring bladder cancer the year prior.
Last year when my gynecologist suggested that I test for the genetic mutation — with the support of my husband, I did so. In February I got the results for the BRCA2 gene, and I swiftly swung into action. I did not care for the chances that I too would have Breast Cancer. This was one family tradition that I did not want to carry on. I started with a total hysterectomy back in May, I had my double mastectomy in August and right now I am scheduled for reconstruction in November.
Knowledge is power. It has given me the ability to reduce my risk for Breast Cancer from 87% chance to 5%. The average American woman has a 20% risk. I no longer have to worry about Ovarian, Cervical, or Uterine cancer. This month is dedicated to Breast Cancer Awareness. Yes I have had to have three major surgeries, and there have been minor complications, but I am at peace. I am not worried and I fought this on my terms. Something that my Mother, Grandmother and Great Grandmother did not have a chance to do.
At the beginning of this year I had selected Discernment, Peace and Adventure as my words for the year. I had no idea how they would come together and this was not the adventure that I (nor George) and thought it would be. I have learned much and today I have a clearer idea where I am headed and how I will live out the rest of my life. If you live in the Rochester NY area – seek out the Elizabeth Wende Breast Center. They are an invaluable resource.
Finding my Voice
Putting my life on hold going through this, I can’t imagine having cancer on top of all that has happened. Don’t get me wrong, this has not be an easy process. I have shed a lot of tears and asked on more than one occasion “why me?” What I have come to understand is that when you take control of your health it is a lot easier than sitting waiting at every exam wondering “are they going to find something?” I must still be monitored for Breast Cancer, and I must be vigilant regarding Melanoma and the potential for Pancreatic Cancer.
I proudly join a group of women of share their experience in hopes of helping others. I hope in some small way my story will help you too take control of your health!