When my older sister got diagnosed with a 2nd breast cancer two months ago and had to have a mastectomy, it changed things for me as well. She’s been incredibly brave through her now 3 cancer diagnoses and treatments. I’m proud of her. I wish her health and a long life… a life free of the worry of cancer and full of joy.
But this also meant that what I’ve put off for years, BRCA testing, I now had no other choice but to do. She carries the BRCA2 genetic mutation and has now had breast cancer in both her breasts. I had to know if I, too, carried the gene mutation.
If I was negative, I could stop the aggressive surveillance. If I was positive, I had to re-educate myself about the risks. Her breast cancers were not caught by a mammogram. Her second breast cancer was fast growing. While there is excellent screening for breast cancer and it can be caught early, did I want to wait to catch it if the probability was high that I would also get it? Which even if caught early, could mean chemotherapy or other treatments? Complicated further, there isn’t effective screening for ovarian cancer, it is usually caught at an advanced stage and it is very hard to cure. If I carry the mutation, what choices would I have and make?
I reached out to my genetic counselor and told her my sister’s news. She was empathetic and caring. Jeffrey and I spent two hours with her going over genetics and risks. It would take 2 weeks to get results of the blood test to see if I, like my older sister, was a BRCA2 mutation carrier. My counselor specifically said that she would call me in either case, if it was positive or negative. And that she would clearly identify herself, even though I’ve seen her many times now over 3-4 years, and make sure it was a good time to talk.
In the first few days after the blood test, Jeffrey and I kept looking at each other. Hopeful perhaps. With all that my family has been through, with each medical procedure I have been through, would we get lucky? My little sister inquired, any news? Friends checked in, did you get results yet? One friend even joked that she’d use her voodoo skills to vibe a negative result. My dad called. The few colleagues that I told waited with me. Days went by. The same questions posed. I felt so supported and also pretty scared. By the two week mark, I was having nightmares. I dreamt my older sister (who has the BRCA2 gene) and I were sleeping on cancer in our youth. It felt prescient.
My genetic counselor called. I MISSED THE PHONE CALL!! I called her back and left a message. I turned my cell phone’s ringer to the highest volume. I told my husband that I missed the call but that the news was imminent. Now we were both waiting for that next call. Near the end of the day, I had a meeting with my boss to go over the timing for a large branding and marketing campaign we would soon begin working on. I took my cell phone into her office. I told her if it rang I’d have to take the call. After an hour of working, it did.
It’s been 11 days since I found out I have the BRCA2 genetic mutation that puts me at higher risk for breast and/or ovarian cancer.
My first reaction: Shock. Disappointment. Sadness. A knowing that it would be positive. I didn’t get a pass. Anger. Fear. FUUUUCCK!! FUUUCCKK FUUUCKK FUUUCCCCK FUUCK!
After talking it through with my husband, family and friends in the first few days, I came to another reaction: Acceptance. I have a genetic mutation and there’s a strong probability I’ll get breast and/or ovarian cancer if I do nothing.
And then came gratitude. I don’t have to wait for the probable diagnosis. I have knowledge. And as hard as this has been all these years of waiting. As hard as it will be. As my husband, family and friends have been walking beside me the past 11 days as we are investigating the options, I know how fortunate I am to be able to do something. To prevent breast and/or ovarian cancer in my future. To preserve my life. Yes, I am grateful to know I have a BRCA2 mutation. Because ultimately, that knowledge may save my life.