To Give Up Healthy Body Parts or to Wait for Cancer to Invade Them? - 2xSurvivor

Decision Point Associated with Breast Cancer. Posted on September 7, 2012 View this journey (10 Experiences)

This past May, during my law school final exams, a friend from my Messianic congregation sent me a rather lengthy cancer-related article from the Smithsonian (to explain why she had committed herself to donate $1 from the sale of each copy of her recently published book to the American Cancer Society). I came close to deleting it without reading it. I now praise God that I chose to read the article. The author explained that certain Jews (I'm Jewish) have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to contract breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. As I read it, I got goose bumps; the profile closely fit my own medical history and that of my mother, of blessed memory. I wondered whether my being Jewish might be the reason why cancer seemed to run in my family. I immediately emailed the article to my oncologist of six years earlier, asking if I had ever been tested for the mutation and, if not, whether I should be tested. He responded by authorizing me to meet with a clinical geneticist. In preparation for the appointment, I received a medical history survey to fill out. I was certain that this was serious business when I saw a category among the choices for ethnicity that I had never encountered on any other such list: Ashkenazi Jewish! There are two ethnic categories of Jews, and this was mine! The geneticist determined that I was a good candidate for the blood test. He said that if I tested positive I should give serious consideration to proactively having my ovaries and my remaining breast removed before cancer had an opportunity to strike them. This was a shock; I had looked into the mutation only out of curiosity (and had been alerted to its existence only to help me understand my friend's decision to donate to the ACS and not because she thought I might have the mutation). I had the blood test done that day (May 25). I then tried to put it out of my mind for the four weeks that the geneticist had told me I would have to wait for the results. The two genes that were tested were BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. I don't know a lot of Hebrew, but it occurred to me that they almost perfectly spelled out “br’cha,” the word for “blessing!” Only later did I learn that “BRCA” stands for “breast cancer.” When I told my now unbelieving adult son that this mutation didn't seem like much of a blessing, he replied that the blessing was in finding out about the danger in time to address it. I'm usually the one to find the bright side of things that seem dark, but this time he hit the nail right on the head. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of one of Tevye's charming lines in my favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof: “[to God] I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?” Since meeting with the geneticist, I have been on a personal campaign to inform Jews of the mutation and its effects. If you are Jewish, I urge you to look into this if there is any breast or ovarian cancer in your family—particularly early onset (before age forty-five). If you are not Jewish but know someone who is, please help me spread the word. I have since learned that the mutation also affects those of Dutch, Norwegian, and Icelandic ancestry. I also recently met a Hispanic woman who has it. I met again with the geneticist on June 8 and learned that I do have one of the three mutations at issue. Therefore, I waited until my summer class was finished and then gave up the body parts that had a high likelihood of becoming cancerous if given the opportunity. I accepted this without distress and did not cry at all. The relevant organs have fulfilled their purpose in my life, having produced and nourished a healthy, handsome, brilliant son. Having the surgery without first contracting cancer meant that I didn't have to go through chemotherapy, which I saw as a huge advantage. I also thus avoided having lymph node dissection, so my right arm is still available for blood tests, injections, and taking my blood pressure. I shall never have another mammogram. I realized only after the surgeries that I would never again have to endure pap smears. Besides, it's great to be (relatively) symmetrical again; having no breasts looks much better than having one. Now I can choose to have breasts of any size I like from day to day--or go around completely flat! The possibilities are endless. I've even considered star-shaped breasts because I'm a Take Charge of Your Health Cancer-Surviving Rock Star! I've also invented Booby Sox--a way to roll/fold socks to use them instead of those little pillows or prostheses. I had my two surgeries three weeks apart, the one in which my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, and cervix were removed laparoscopically four days after I finished summer school, allowing two weeks after the second one (the mastectomy) before my fall semester of law school began. I've just completed the first two weeks of class and look forward to being fitted next week for my new bras and prostheses. God is so good--every time!

Read and answer Breast Cancer questions.