How I fell into the world of breast cancer

I found a lump in my breast accidentally. At 34 years old, I hadn't had a mammogram yet, and as a mother of 3 young children, I wasn't so great about doing self-exams.

So in early January, I was putting away our holiday decorations (rushed, as usual) in the basement, in the dark (why?), and I tripped over a roll of extra carpet and went crashing into a barrel I used to store rolls of wrapping paper. As I lie there in the dark, with the wind knocked out of me, I felt sorry for myself. It was a bad fall! At that time, I didn't know how lucky I was.

Not quite a month later, my family and I were on a trip to Disney World when I did a self-exam...both to do an exam, and to check to see how my bruising/pain from the fall were healing. When I found the lump, I had a bad feeling, and even worse, my husband had a bad feeling, too! (He's the more relaxed partner in our marriage.)

I returned from our trip on Sunday, called my OB/GYN on Monday, saw him Tuesday, and was scheduled for a mammogram (which turned into a breast ultrasound and a core needle biopsy) on Friday. Monday night, my doctor called me. He sounded sadder and even more perplexed than I did: breast cancer in his 34 year old patient.

It felt illogical that I would have breast cancer or the BRCA1+ mutation - of all the risk factors I have ever read, I had none of them, other than having a grandmother who passed away from breast cancer in her 60s. It didn't matter if it was illogical, though - I prefer to prepare myself for the worst, and by that Sunday night, I had already gone through the scenarios in my head (it doesn't take long!).

I was ready for action, immediately! I was incredibly lucky, also. At 34, I had 3 children and had breastfed them all. I was proud of my extra-utilitarian (though small and finally, saggy) breasts for feeding my babies, but I was also ready to hand them over to the surgeon. I was given surgical choices (this was before my genetic results came back), and unequivocably chose bilateral mastectomy. If this could happen to me at 34, what was going to happen at 44, 54, 64, 74? (I was 12 when my 38 year old mother passed away from a massive heart attack...a big goal in my life has been to become an old woman and I would give up anything to get there.)

My surgeon knew I was BRCA1+ on the day of my bilateral mastectomy, though I wouldn't find out until I met with the genetic counselor about 2 weeks later. Somehow I had "felt" that news coming, too...another "illogical" prescience. I had almost no breast cancer in my family - other than my paternal grandmother. It was a hidden defect in our case - she had 6 boys, and though she was one of many children, they had few children and those children were also almost exclusively male! I had a feeling, though...two of her sisters had died of "one of the cancers of the reproductive system - cervical or ovarian?" when they were younger (though they were older than I am. When I got my BRCA1+ diagnosis, I could answer that question quite definitively - ovarian cancer.)

Although I stumbled - literally and figuratively - into the world of breast cancer and BRCA genetic mutations - I have to say, I feel pretty lucky. I feel lucky for the fall that helped me to find my cancer, lucky for the kind doctors and medical staff along the way, lucky for friends, family and acquaintances who have made these 9 months pretty special for our family. Who would have thought a person could say that about 9 months filled with surgeries, chemotherapy, and recoveries?

1 comment:

Meredith Bezak said...

Dear Pam,

I heard about your story from a note your MIL posted on another blog. She is so proud of you.

I was wondering if you'd be willing to share your story with us. My best friend and I are starting a foundation for what we call "Cancer Rockstars." The gist is that we want to connect cancer fighters and survivors with their favorite band. We're looking for people who are willing to share their story and really start the ball of communication rolling. Also, if there's a band that you would love to see live, or even just get a "Rock Star" makeover, we'd love to do what we can to help you out.

We're launching next month, but you can find us at www.cancerrockstar.org, as well as Facebook & Twitter.