I carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, I have had several bouts with breast cancer and I have NOT had a mastectomy- WHY?
When I was approaching 35 years of age, I had my first baseline mammogram since I have a maternal aunt (now 97!) who had breast cancer along with a mastectomy while in her 70’s. When I was 37, my mother (now 88) was diagnosed with breast cancer also in her 70’s and I was reminded it was time for my annual mammogram. One month following my mother, I too was diagnosed with breast cancer. Over a span of eleven years I had 3 positive breast cancer diagnosis, 5 surgeries including lumpectomies on one breast, the Sentinel lymph node tested and was treated with six weeks of radiation and Tamoxifen for five years.
When my husband and I met with my breast surgeon after my second recurrence (18 months after my original diagnosis) we asked, “what can “we” do”? The answer at that time was, “we will keep a close watch and have a mammogram every 6 months”. We decided that was not enough and after a great deal of research, realized there are things that we can do to help ourselves. My husband and I sold our chain of drugstores and went into the business of a health food store. Our lifestyle changed to organic foods, a better exercise regimen, ways to reduce our stress and a full regimen of nutritional supplements.
After my last diagnosis, I decided to go for genetic testing and was diagnosed with the BRCA2 mutation. I then had a full hysterectomy (oophorectomy) due to the higher risk of developing ovarian cancer as well and the difficulty in an early diagnosis. Sharing this information with my husband, sons and brothers, at that moment it was obvious that all of our lives would change from that point forward.
Having the BRCA2 mutation puts family members that also carry the gene at a higher risk of Prostate, Pancreatic, Melanoma and other cancers. A few years later my brother was diagnosed with Male Breast Cancer and then Prostate cancer and after testing we know he is also a BRCA2 carrier. This means our sons (between us we have 5) now have an increased risk of also carrying the mutation and higher percentage of these cancers.
So, you ask why did I not have a mastectomy? For me, I have always felt like I do everything I can for prevention and/or an early diagnosis with a mammogram at 6 months and a breast MRI at the next 6 months. Every person’s body makes cancer cells, however having the BRCA mutation; our body is unable to destroy them. Since it appears my cancer cells go to my breast (3 times…) I feel having them helps me to find and remove the cancer. If I take away my breast, where will the cancer go? And how will I find it? Keeping my breast actually puts my mind more at ease! Having had the hysterectomy, I removed the area that is harder to diagnose.
What I do believe is everyone is different and how we each deal with a situation is an individual decision. I appreciate what Angelina Jolie has done for her and her family. Her children (male and female) will grow up to make their own decisions about what works for them, if they too are carriers. My 3 sons have not been tested yet, however they live their life with the awareness they may be at a higher risk for a cancer diagnosis. If one or all of them are carriers, then it will be their decision as to whether they have a prophylactic mastectomy for Male Breast Cancer or take a more cautious road and keep a close watch as for all cancers. Either way, they are educated, informed and aware and that is the first step in the right direction.
My brother and I created the non-profit organization, HIS Breast Cancer Awareness to help educate others about Male Breast Cancer and the BRCA genetic mutation. It’s important men know they too have breast, are aware if they have a family history of these cancers they may also be a BRCA carrier and they know what their options are if they choose to be tested. Men and women need to be educated for themselves and for their children, both daughters and sons.
Modah Ani- I Am Thankful
Editor; Vicki Singer Wolf, Co-founder