I’ve not actually had cancer…not yet. And I hope not ever. But fifteen years ago, my family was given the news that many of us were carriers of the BRCA 1 mutation. My Aunt Linda, the catalyst for testing, passed away by age 49, and my mother and other relatives took measures to prevent the suffering and death my Aunt experienced. Five years later, as I turned 24, I took the test to find out my fate: POSITIVE for a deleterious genetic mutation. If I didn’t one day remove my breasts and ovaries I would most likely get breast and ovarian cancer. And it would be more aggressive and less treatable than other common breast cancers.
My world didn’t come tumbling down over this news. It didn’t change at all in fact, or at least I wasn’t ready to acknowledge how much my life really would be different. But several years later, after countless pelvic ultrasounds, breast MRI’s, mammograms, clinical exams, breast ultrasounds, and blood tests, I was ready to take the next steps. I thought about hearing the words, “you have cancer” every time I went in for a routine exam and I felt that I needed to do something proactive. I was a ticking time bomb! Before my 28th birthday, even earlier than the medically recommended age, I underwent a preventative, nipple-sparing, double mastectomy with implants and reconstruction, and I have never been more at peace with a decision.
What’s so important about knowing family history and genetic information is that it gives you a special key that many people don’t get. I got a chance to look ahead at my impending future with cancer and reduce my risk. For that, I am so grateful and lucky. However, my journey is not yet over. Besides my increasing risk of ovarian cancer and another inevitable surgery, lies the question of what will become of my children’s future. Carrying a mutation is a multi-generational issue filled with grief, loss, worry, and also feelings of stronger kinship and common understanding.
I’m thrilled and humbled to be part of Brushes With Cancer. I hope that through my artist’s work and message, we can reach those who don’t yet know about hereditary cancer, those who think they might be at risk, and those who quietly carry this information feeling alone in the world. My wish is that with more awareness, support, and research, there will be better methods for cancer prevention and treatments for future generations.