According to research, the chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer is on the rise. Since early 2000 the rate of breast cancer sufferers has risen by about 3.5%. That means we have a 1 in 8 chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. I don’t know about you, but I do not like those odds. Recently, I realized I needed to be more proactive about arming myself with knowledge so that I could maybe prevent a diagnosis and/or know what to do if I did have the misfortune of being diagnosed with this terrible disease.
I have known and loved people who have suffered and died from breast cancer. I am not sure if there is anyone who has not been affected, which is a sad testimony to the way this disease touches so many of us. Shortly after my mom died of breast cancer in November 2015, I had my annual appointment with my Ob/Gyn. I told him my news and he went on to interview me on other women in my family that had died of breast or ovarian cancer. I had not really thought about it before but when forced to be historical, I realized I did have a lineage of these terrible cancers on my mother’s side. There was a scary enough mixture of ovarian and breast cancer that my doctor wanted me to see a genetic counsellor and perhaps be tested to see if my BRCA gene was positive.
What is this big and nasty BRCA gene you may ask?
A BRCA mutation is a mutation in either of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, which are tumor suppressor genes. Hundreds of different types of mutations in these genes have been identified, some of which have been determined to be harmful, while others have no proven impact. Harmful mutations in these genes may produce a hereditary breast-ovarian cancer syndrome in affected persons. This means that if these tumor suppressor genes are changed there is no defense for these stinky cells to go crazy and create tumors aka cancer. (This was taken from Wikipedia, which is not the most reliable source for information. I would never allow my students to use it. But it is quick and dirty and gives you the basic information!)
So, what did I do you may ask? I completely ignored my Ob/Gyn and did nothing about it in 2016. During that year, I watched with heartbreak as my dear friend, Di, lost her battle with breast cancer and wondered if I should get tested to see if my BRCA gene was rogue. I still did nothing!
Fast forward to February 2017 when I had my annual appointment with my Ob/Gyn again. A visit we heartedly joke about in our house where your tonsils are examined from down below! I am sure many women can identify with that analogy! I was surprised when my doctor came in wagging his finger at me. I had not set up a date with the genetic counsellor he had suggested or went for a test for my BRCA status. Duly reprimanded, that day I made an appointment and less than a week later I was sitting in an office with a very nice genetic counsellor. It was worth the trip just to get the information, and information is power, right? I learned that cancer is either genetic, familial or environmental. If a female relative is diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer in her 50’s or earlier then your risk is higher. In my case, my mother and maternal aunt both were diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age, but my great grandmother and maternal great aunt were diagnosed with ovarian cancer in their 70’s or later. So much less risk to me. Can I hear a “Hell Yes!”
But due to my family history, it was advised to go ahead with the testing, which is a no-fuss small-discomfort blood draw and even better my insurance company would (probably) pay for it!
After seeing the genetic counsellor, I did feel much less fearful about my results, I think I have less risk than my Ob/Gyn thinks I do. However, it did force me to think what would I do if the test says my BRCA gene is positive and I have an over 80% chance of developing breast/ovarian cancer in my lifetime? I know exactly what I would do, I would have everything wiped out - boobs, ovaries, the lot. I am not sure if I could live with those ticking time bombs on my body, and let’s be honest, all those bits are not really that much good to me anymore. Hubby joked: could he pick out my new boobs - he got a swift whack for that one!
And now we just wait...tick tock...for the results. I will let you know.