By guest writer Andrea C.
I’m currently sitting on my couch watching a rerun of Friends with my feet up on the table. I have an uncomfortable front-close sports bra on and a gauze pad stained with betadine around my midsection. I’m recovering from a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction - I don’t have cancer, it was my choice to have surgery preventively. My name is Andrea, I’m a 35 year old stay at home mom to 3 boys, ages 5, 3 and 1, and I’m BRCA2 positive.
I grew up with a terminally ill mother. My mom Karen was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was my age, 35, and fought the disease until it killed her when she was 41. I was 9 and my brother was 7. As I started my family, having an ill parent, being the child of someone who died young were always on my mind. I knew that I should have some genetic testing done, but I put it off until I was 34 and pretty positive we were done having children. So, when my very last baby was 9 months old, I waltzed in to the same hospital which treated my mom 25 years ago and sat down with a genetic counselor. My test was positive.
I’m a pretty optimistic person, but having tangible evidence that my future looked like my mom’s was rough. The logical side of me knew that while not ideal, this told me definitively that I needed to act, that I wouldn’t have to wonder if I would get sick too. That I needed to take some serious steps to protect my kids from going through what I went through as a kid, and to protect myself from going through what my mom went through as a young mother. Women and men with BRCA mutations (there are 2 BRCA mutations, and other genetic mutations that increase risk of certain cancers) have a significantly increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer. The level of risk varies by person and my estimated lifetime risk for breast cancer given my family history and the mutation was about 75%. To put that in perspective, about 12% of the population will develop breast cancer sometime during their life. For me, I didn’t hesitate - I started interviewing surgeons.
I ended up having a preventive mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in New Orleans. After learning my options, I went with a surgical team there because they could do what is called a flap reconstruction where they used my own tissue to create new breasts. I chose this instead of having implant reconstruction because it seemed to be the best fit for me. In choosing this though, I chose to have a harder upfront surgery with a longer and more intense recovery than had I opted to do implant reconstruction. I didn’t make this decision lightly, or alone, but I’m confident in the choice that I made and I’d choose it again if I had to. I’ve had a pretty textbook recovery so far, and one of the reasons for that is because of the immense support I’ve had from my family and friends, and our community at large.
My biggest fears going into my surgery were around my kids - what if something horrible happened and I didn’t make it out of the surgery? Barring that worst case scenario, what could I possibly do to make this as little of a blip in their little lives as possible? I decided early on that I’d accept any and all help that was offered to us. And I was blown away by the outpouring of offers. My village stepped up and stepped up big - I’m 3 weeks out from my surgery as I write this and my kids have adjusted as well as they possibly could have. My two best friends flew down to New Orleans with me and my husband and supported both him and me through the actual surgery and immediate post-op days. My family rallied up here at home with my 3 kids and divided and conquered with running them all around town to their activities. My local mom’s club set up a meal train for us and we have home cooked meals being delivered to our house for 5 weeks.
I don’t think that I could have asked for more than what’s been offered and given to our family. I’ve been given the gift of being able to recover while not worrying for a moment about my family, and that’s the greatest gift that I can imagine. On my hardest days in recovery, I don’t have to worry about anyone but myself and that’s a luxury for anyone, especially a mom with little guys at home. I am eternally grateful to science for allowing me to have a crystal ball for my future health, for skilled surgeons working to make me whole and keep me healthy, and most of all for the village that surrounds me - my husband, my kids, and all the people that happened in to our lives who are helping make our world go round while I kick my feet up and rest.