Earlier this year, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer. Gulp. I thought I was invincible, but alas that is not the case. The first thing I thought was… “oh shit… I’m going to lose my hair,” followed by “or maybe my boobs,” and oddly last but not least, “I might die”. Scary stuff. Fortunately my cancer was caught early and I got off “easy” with a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, radiation and now the lovely drug Tamoxifen. I got to keep my hair (no radiation), most of my boobs, and at least for now, my death does not appear to be imminent.
But my journey didn’t end there. Aside from the ungodly amount of paper work, the bills that keep rolling in, and the every six month checks and rechecks, it was brought to my attention that I should get tested for the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 & BRCA2. Seems like just another test, right? Well… no… the implications are huge. Especially for someone like me who tends to prefer the ostrich-style approach of keeping her head in the sand and hoping for the best.
Testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes is not recommended for everyone, but alas, I fall into the “you should really do this” category for several reasons:
- I was diagnosed with breast cancer “young”. As defined by my genetic counselors, that is under 50. (I was 45 at my diagnosis).
- I am of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. (Who knew? Not me, but apparently that ups your risk. Really, I have to deal with my genetically frizzy hair, AND possibly having the breast cancer gene?
- My mother had breast cancer… AND
- I have a 21 year old daughter that I need to look out for.
So despite my ostrich tendencies, I decided to take the test. If I don’t have the gene… phew! And I can happily tell my daughter and niece and even my Mom that there is nothing to worry about. If do have the gene… then a whole new can of worms will be opened. Double mastectomy? Have my ovaries out? What does my daughter have to do in terms of being tested? Etc, etc, etc.
The test itself was easy… all I had to do was swish some scope around in my mouth and spit it into a tube. But the waiting for results… oy! Maybe I shouldn’t have done this right before Thanksgiving. Oh and just to dispel some rumors that I had heard… I was told the test will cost somewhere around $570. The $3,000 dollar test is a more comprehensive that isn’t called for in my case. And not to add too much confusion to an already confusing issue, but they told me that if you don’t have one of the “standard” mutations in your BRCA1 and BRCA2 but you have some other mutation, they don’t really have good recommendations for you anyway, so why bother knowing.
The whole thing is about risk and chance and percentages and odds. If you have the gene you have X% greater chance of getting breast cancer or ovarian cancer than if you don’t. If you remove your breasts and ovaries you CHANCES drop down to almost nothing. But we’re still talking about chance. You could have the gene and not get cancer. (Or in my case, not get another cancer).
Alas, the test was easy but as they say… “the waiting is the hardest part”.
To Be Continued….