Increasing My Odds

Prior to her breast cancer diagnosis, my mother had been quite vigilant about doing breast self exams, and getting routine mammograms. It didn’t help.

My mom died about a year and a half ago, after an 18 year battle with breast cancer that slowly but surely metasticized to her brain, liver, and other organs. Though my mother tried her best to make the most of her 18 years of survival, much of her post-diagnosis time and energy were spent getting used to one medication or another, visiting doctors, undergoing surgeries, recuperating from surgeries, applying for medical trials, and anxiously anticipating various test results.

I watched my mother morph from a super high-energy (often TOO high energy) woman who rode a motorcycle, danced wildly at concerts, cooked up a storm, and was constantly involved in multiple craft projects, into a woman who had no appetite, could barely walk across a room, and who didn’t even have the energy or focus to read a book.

Listen. I REALLY don’t want that to happen to me.

In the fall of 2011, about six months after my mother passed away, I decided to get genetically tested to find out if I am BRCA mutation positive (a mutation that puts people at higher risk for breast and other cancers). To be honest, I have lived most of my adult life absolutely convinced that I AM BRCA positive, and that I was destined to face the same uphill battle my mother faced since her diagnosis at age 44.

Deciding to go through with the test was not difficult. Worst case scenario? I would get affirmation of what I already expected was true. Best case scenario? I’d be floored to find out I did NOT have the genetic mutation, and would experience a sense of extreme relief.

So when my genetic counselor gave me the news, and told me that I was indeed BRCA 1 positive, I was actually pretty emotionally prepared. I don’t remember if I even cried when I heard the results (though I am pretty sure I had one or two emotional breakdowns shortly afterward). I really had expected the results.

Both the genetic counselor and my OB/GYN tried to spin the information in as positive a light as possible. They told me it was NOT a death sentence and, in a way, was actually a very POSITIVE thing to get these results. Knowing that I am BRCA positive, I can now better inform myself about the choices that are available to me,  and ways I can try to avoid getting cancer, despite my genetic predisposition. The doctor and counselor provided me with lots of helpful information, and I asked as many questions as I could about my risks, and about the preventative measures I could take to decrease my risks.

So now, at the age of 36, I am planning to get a preventative mastectomy. As a mom and a wife, my priority is to be there for my kids and my husband for as many years as I can be, and I am going to do whatever it takes to make sure those years can be spent cancer free.  

My thoughts and feelings about my impending surgery (which I am now planning for the summer/fall of 2013) definitely run hot and cold.

Sometimes I think of the mastectomy as a blessing in disguise  - after all, having nursed Emmy for 18 months, and now planning to nurse my baby-to-be for at least 3 – 6 months, I know my “girls” will have seen better days. I am sure there are plenty of nursing mamas out there who wouldn’t mind a little “lift” in the boobage area.

But let’s face it. This is no small “lift” we’re talking about. This surgery is total removal and replacement. This is “bye bye, girls! Hello, squishy pouches!” and two to three weeks of post-surgery recovery. And then ANOTHER surgery a few weeks later. With two small kids in the house. It’s probably NOT going to be a very fun time, is it? No matter HOW perky my boobs end up being.

But the bottom line? I need to do this. I need to make sure that I can live long enough to see my daughter - and hopefully my son - mature into an adulthood, and to be there for them along the way. If it means adding a few more scars to my body, so be it. If it means saying “Ta! Ta!” to my ta-tas, so be it. I just  need to do what I can to increase my odds.

Dvora Koelling
Parenting with imagination. Or at least trying.


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