I have been getting mammograms since I was 30 years old. As I have said before, my strong family history of breast cancer required me to begin mammograms 10 years earlier than the typical protocol. Everyone knows that these tests are extremely uncomfortable for several reasons. First, there is the strange woman grabbing your boob--kneading it like a piece of pizza dough--to get it to sit on the hard, cold, plastic machine in just the right spot to obtain the perfect image of your breast. Then there is the pain of your milk-makers being squished to a flatness that only a mouse can achieve while slithering under a doorway (or some other space that only air can fit through). At the very least, mammograms are downright unpleasant.
The other day I went to my scheduled annual mammogram and, to my surprise, I became very emotional at the thought of not needing another--like ever. The technician was the first to realize that I was barely keeping my shit together. She asked me what was wrong and I just blurted it out: “I tested positive for the CHEK2 genetic mutation and am scheduled for my double mastectomy on January 9th. This is my last mammography.” She was lovely and told me she had two friends who did the same thing about 15 years ago. That right there is a big deal. Those women were very brave pioneers for their time. Today, more women are making the proactive decision to remove their breasts before the dreaded cancer diagnosis. Since I am one of them, it’s comforting to know that others have made the same choice as me, especially when both options (removing them or keeping them with high risk) are terrifying.
My decision was a no-brainer for me. I am a forty-five year old mother of three children. In addition to wanting to be around for them in general, my six year old has special needs. I need to take every measure, even seemingly drastic ones, to prolong my healthy life. And these children ARE my life, so again, the decision was a no-brainer for me.
Despite having confidence in my choice, I have some days when I wish I could bail on my decision or obtain a new genetic code. A genetic code that does not raise my risk of breast cancer to almost 50%, or elevate my risk of colon, thyroid, and gastric cancers. I guess getting my last mammogram triggered those feelings. I ultimately held it together, but I am understanding that I will have to mourn the loss of these body parts that symbolize femininity. Although they have been an important part of intimate experiences and have nourished my babies, the fact that they may end up killing me one day keeps me moving forward. And so forward I go.
My way of coping so far has been to avoid thinking about the actual surgery and how my body will forever be changed in a couple of months. I will look different, and I will no longer have feeling where the tissue is removed. I am writing about it now, but I usually keep these thoughts floating about five feet behind me at all times, because dwelling on it is a rabbit hole I don’t want to go down. It is just too much to think about and process. When the time comes, and I am hoping that time is very close to the surgery, like maybe the day of or night before, I am sure I will have my moment to break down. Luckily, the holidays are upon us and I have some REALLY fun activities planned with some of my favorite people to distract me from my reality.
We can only try to do our best in this lifetime. When serious health issues arise, our perspective changes. We make life altering decisions and never truly know if the choices we make are what’s best, but we move onward with faith and hope. Through it all, I have to consider myself lucky to have avoided cancer up until now. I also have so much gratitude for the great support system I have from so many people that I love. Thanks to all of my blessings, I know that despite any difficulties that come my way, in the end, I will be OK. That being said, it would still be nice to hit reboot on my genetic code.