Breast Cancer – How it has affected me

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.

Heart_BFAC

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13 thoughts on “Breast Cancer – How it has affected me

  1. Hi, over from BF and truly sorry for your loss. Particularly now where you around the same age. I am happy though that you were tested negative. It does lower the risk! I browsed a bit and truly like your engagement about water. Ifeel the same born into privilege and lived for some years in Africa. I learnt how truly privileged I am and how very precious water is.
    Love from my heart to yours!

  2. What a difficult situation to be in for you. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and for increasing awareness about the genetics behind breast cancer.

    Stopping by from Blog for a Cause hop.

  3. Thanks for sharing your story. I can’t imagine either losing a parent at such a young age, or being a parent and knowing you will be leaving behind your children. Good for you for NOT letting the disease and fear of it be a major part of your life.

  4. Ah, I understand. My mom died of ovarian cancer, when she was 53. So I was much older than you when I lost my mom (I was 26) but the loss is hard nonetheless. I have often thought about approaching the age of 53 and what that will feel like for me… so I can imagine what it is like to stand in your shoes. And I’ve also toyed with the idea of genetic testing, but for me it is a bit different because it would have been best to test my mom (as you learned in your genetic counseling). So. For now I just have increased screenings. And then I try to just live my life and enjoy what I have every day, because I know that even if I die at 99 years old, I will still die and that these moment that are in front of me right now will not last forever no matter what I do. I’ve gotten much better the last few years about not letting it “own my life” because what kind of life would that be? Thanks for the post. Much appreciated.

    • Hi Becca, sorry for your loss. I agree that the loss of a parent is terrible whenever it happens. I like your philosophy of life…. None of us know how long we have. Life is fragile…regardless of our genetics.

  5. Oh, sweetie, I can’t imagine. I can’t imagine what your mother went through knowing she would leave you so young – my oldest is 3 1/2 and I’m crying right now even thinking of that. I can’t imagine what you went through and continue to go through, as well. I understand what you mean about getting tested, and it it’s positive then you’re ticking time bomb. I don’t know what I would do, but you breast feed and that is awesome, because I know that lowers the risk.

  6. Hey you,

    I know we talk at other times but wanted to say that it’s times like this that we tend to read more about our friends and their inner thoughts. Thanks for sharing them.

    • Thanks Jode…it’s a shame don’t you think? I think friendships are designed to be more intimate…and yet it’s easier to share publicly than with those closest to us sometimes. (Not that I couldn’t have shared this with you…just never thought to)

  7. Erin thanks for being so vulnerable – not always easy to do and it does bring up memories. I haven’t been affected by breast cancer but I know with the diabetes diagnosis I know I want to take care of myself to be there for my kids as they grow. Also thinking about their future chances with the disease could get tedious, so I try not to be negative and believe that God can cut off generational sicknesses and diseases. He can do that for you too. Thanks for sharing!!

  8. Wow Erin, truly thanks for sharing so openly about your journey. So sorry to hear about your mum (funny how we chat but I didn’t even know that). This has been something that’s been at the back of my mind for ages now (due to family history as well) I’ve just had a taste of it in this last month actually and so true what Caroline says, we walk a fine line and have to be wise and live well (doing the right things) and then also always stand in faith (even when there is major battle going on in the mind)… sending lotsa love t

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