On July 4th 1998 I stood on the front porch of my parent’s house in Maysville, KY and cut off my 46 year old mother’s thinning hair. Earlier that year Mom had been diagnosed with stage 3 ovarian cancer. She fought hard for the next 10 years, taking every chemo treatment available until the treatments ran out along with Mom’s time here on earth.
I’m not sure what spurred it on, a nudge from her doctors or just her own curiosity, but Mom started researching our family history of cancer and found that her father’s side of the family was drenched in breast cancer, ovarian cancer and stomach cancer (most likely ovarian as well). Years later her half sister, Sandy, was also diagnosed.
In 2002 Mom underwent BRCA genetic testing to see if our family’s history of cancer was indeed genetic. Mom tested positive for two gene mutations confirming her genetic predisposition to cancer. Because Mom was a carrier of the mutations, there was a 50% chance that my sister and I were also carriers. We were both tested; my big sis got the luck of the draw and tested negative (yaaaay!) while I tested positive for one of Mom’s mutations (booooo!).
I want it to be noted that I don’t hold any negative feelings toward my sister for stealing all the good non-cancer genes. Sure she also stole the ‘I look 15 years younger than I actually am’ genes and the ‘I can multitask like a bad mamma-jamma’ genes, but I’m taller, I don’t sunburn, and eating ice cream has never thrown me into an asthmatic attack so… I call it evens. Besides, we both got the ‘derpy’ genes.
I’m sure you’re thinking, “Afton, all of the Mutants I know have really incredible super powers. Does your mutation give you super strength or the ability to over consume pizza and still fight crime?” Sadly, the answer is no. While my pizza consumption is on the higher end for someone my size I have not acquired any super powers. I guess you could consider me more of a ‘Rogue’, because let’s be honest, her mutation sucks too.
What the BRCA gene mutation DOES give me is:
A 55-65% chance of developing breast cancer by age 70.
A 35-70% chance of developing ovarian cancer by age 70
*Men who carry the mutations are also at a higher risk for breast cancer and prostate cancer.
Guys, I KNOW!! I’m totally being a Debbie Downer,
but I want you to know this stuff because:
A) If your family tree has a crazy amount of breast, ovarian and or prostate cancer, you might have a greater risk, but you are not alone! And there’s something you can do about it. Get tested! Take control of you future.
B) There’s no good screening method for ovarian cancer. By the time most women start experiencing warning signs, if ever, it’s too late in the game.
C) The risk involved for those of us with the BRCA mutation is just too high to ignore. This is why most women with the mutation opt for preventative hysterectomy and double mastectomy. (If you’re thinking to yourself, “Wow. That seems pretty extreme.” You’re right. It is extreme. And I pray that someday this won’t be the norm, but for now these preventative surgeries are the best options the medical community can provide.)
D) I will need your help! Meals, encouragement, support for Josh and the boys, maybe a hair wash. And prayers, lots of prayers.
DD) If I look different (ahem) the next time you see me you’ll know why.
So, here I am, 4 days away from my 36th birthday. In 3 days I have an appointment at the Women’s Oncology Center in St. Louis to schedule my preventative surgeries and discuss my options. I’m not 100% sure what that will look like. I’m not afraid, a bit anxious, but also really ready to start on this journey. If these surgeries will provide me the opportunity to someday sit on the back porch with old man Josh Nordean while we watch our grandkids play in the yard then I’ll take it, all day everyday.
Thanks for reading friends! I covet your love and support. And cheesecake. If you have any cheesecake, I covet that too.