I’m posting this as part of Blog for a Cause hosted by Nirvana Mama.
My mother died of breast cancer when I was 5 years old. She was 36. I miss her to this day.
36 is too young to die.
5 is too young to lose your mother.
As I have grown into adulthood and become a mother myself I have become able to understand the kind of pain she must have gone through knowing she was going to die and leave my brother and I without a mother. It is a terrible thing to face.
I am 34 now. I still find it hard to get my head around that at this stage in her life she had so little time left. It’s a rather sobering thought. My approaching her age has also lead me to consider more seriously my own risks of developing the disease.
There is a real possibility that our family carries abnormal BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. There have been other relatively young women in our extended family die from breast cancer, and we have been touched by ovarian cancer as well. About 2 years ago I visited a genetic counselor to investigate the possibility of genetic testing. This process opened a can of worms for me. The chain of events that would be unleashed if I went down that road are too much for me to face right now.
To get genetic testing would require me to approach the family member who has had ovarian cancer to be tested first. Obviously, it it’s positive that she has the gene, ALL the female members of the family would then face their own decisions about whether to test or not.
If I was tested for the gene, and it was negative, it only means I’m not AS predisposed to breast cancer…I would still carry the greatest risk…being female. As well as all the other risks such as age, diet and family history (because even if it’s a non genetic cancer, family history still increases the risk).
If I tested positive, I would be considered 60% more likely to get breast cancer. These are heavy odds. Then I would have to ask myself what to do about it. I could do nothing more than the average woman, which I imagine would feel like a ticking time bomb. I could get blood tests and frequent mammograms, starting younger than normal and have an annual reminder of it hanging over my head. Or I could do what many women have done, and have a prophylactic mastectomy, which is dramatic and traumatic, and life changing. AND, if I tested positive, it has repercussions for my own daughter.
To be honest, I have simply delayed the decision on what to do. I am still breast feeding our youngest. (Breastfeeding is REALLY good for breast cancer prevention) I’m not entirely sure that we won’t have more children. I haven’t discussed this whole genetic thing with the extended family.
So, I’m in a strange kind of limbo. There are plenty of things about this that I CAN control, such as a healthy diet, and regular exercise (I could do better about both of these), and once I’ve finished feeding this little one, I will see the doctor about screening for the disease. Early detection is probably my best approach whether I have genetic issues or not.
So…while the loss of my mother is with me every single day, breast cancer isn’t. I think about it from time to time. I try to keep informed with what’s going on in breast cancer prevention and research, but I don’t let it own my life.
Has breast cancer affected you? Leave a comment if you have a story you want to share, or pop over here for more breast cancer posts. The related links below are worth a read too.
On that note, I’m off to eat some steamed brocoli. Ha.
- Cancer risk and Abnormal Genes – Breast Cancer.org
- BRCA1 and BRCA2: Cancer Risk and Genetic Testing – National Cancer Institute
- Prophylactic Mastectomy – Breast Cancer.org
- Preventative Mastectomy – National Cancer Institute
- Breastfeeding Linked to Lower Cancer Risk – NY Times