In less than a week, I’ll take the first real step into a world I’ve been immersed in for, what feels like, my whole life.
Breast cancer has been a major part of my life for over twenty years. I was six years old when my mother had sat my brother and I down on our living room couch, as she told us our Aunt Michelle was “sick”. It seemed like breast cancer was the center of every adult conversation in our home, with terms like ‘tumour’ and ‘chemo’ taking center stage.
Six years after ‘Breast Cancer’ had become part of my vocabulary, my mother sat with my brother and I in that same living room, and broke the news she was diagnosed and that surgery and chemotherapy were next on our family agenda. I never saw tears or negativity from her, in fact, what I saw from my mother was a calm and positive woman, she didn’t seem scared or nervous,(although I’m sure she was) and I would find her in her bed some nights reading medical text books as she underwent a mastectomy and full hysterectomy. Through chemo, I saw the nausea and weakness slow her down, and losing her hair wasn’t easy for her, but her wig became her security blanket and I fondly remember her bragging about how easy it was for her to style her hair; we’d joke about which outrageous style she should try next, though she always stuck to same one. Although her illness was serious and real, she never made cancer seem scary or ominous; this was my first up-close experience with breast cancer, and I’m lucky to have had such a positive experience. A 5’2, bald-headed, makeup-free Mom sitting in a robe, reading Webster’s medical dictionary is what breast cancer means to me. She has been in remission for over ten years now.
My Mother was one of what would be six woman in my immediate and extended family to have a genetic predisposition for breast cancer due to a mutation known as the BRCA 2 gene. I remember her telling me that one day I should think about getting tested, and that I would need to be vigilant with self-examinations. At thirteen the impact of that realization triggered an assumption that I still hold to this day, I am most likely a carrier of the gene, and very likely to develop Breast Cancer at some point. I never felt angry or pitied myself, I accepted this, and it’s moulded my life for the better. Throughout my teens I found a love of studying the body and how it functions (today, fourteen years later, I’m a Registered Massage Therapist), I took a big interest in nutrition and keeping my body in optimal health. That’s the funny thing about knowing you have a high risk of getting sick, it’s an opportunity to empower you to do everything possible to prevent it. My Mom would ask me if I was ever scared of the odds, and I can honestly answer, I’m not. I grew up watching most of the women in my family fight and beat breast cancer (due to metastasis, Aunt Michelle, mentioned above, lost her battled). I know first-hand how much support is available if you open your heart and trust the kindness of your family, friends and community. I’m very aware that breast cancer isn’t all about pink ribbons and running races in October, I know that it’s days in bed, losing hair and the organs which biologically make you a woman, about being brought to exhaustion and still needing to fight a battle against your own body; yes, it’s a hard road to travel, but that’s my motivation.
With the possibility of any genetic predisposition I think the debate is this; is ignorance bliss or is knowledge power? Here’s my take on that: If you are happy not knowing , and vow to take all the right steps (mammograms, self-examinations, healthy lifestyle ect.) then absolutely let life take its course! Why worry about something you can’t change, and what is more blissful than flowing with life and letting it bring you were it will. But, if you’re willing to embrace a positive test, and use it as a tool to help you, the knowledge isn’t only power, it’s a catalyst to live life in each precious moment, full of gratitude for the days health and beauty. For me, the right answer is the later, and on November 2nd of this year (which is less than one week from today) I meet with my family’s geneticist and will have my blood tested for the BRCA2 gene. If the test positive I’ll have the option to undergo a mastectomy with reconstructive surgery and a hysterectomy. If the test is negative, well, I’d say I got handed a pretty lucky hand. I can’t say I know how I’ll react to either outcome. It takes four to six weeks to get results, and I’m sure the anticipation will get the best of me at times, but no matter the outcome, this is my life and I’ll embrace it. After all, how would I ever know how strong I can be, unless faced with challenges.