If you didn’t know already, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Cancer has been a prevalent force in my life for as long as I can remember. My Mother dealt with cervical cancer at age 19. Somehow she overcame and had me at age 24. She was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer and passed away at age 26. At age 58, my Grandmother was diagnosed with bladder and kidney cancer. Again, she overcome and was in remission for many years.
I have lived with the constant fear of developing cancer deep in the back of my mind for much of my adolescent and adult life. When I was younger, I couldn’t really understand what cancer was or what it did to your body. But through reading and researching I began to learn and understand just how at risk I was. When I was 25, I decided to have genetic testing done in order to see if I had any of the most common ‘cancer genes’, such as BRCA1 and BRCA2. I ended up getting tested for a full panel of possible ‘cancer genes,’ and was negative for all of them.When I got this news, it felt like a breath of fresh air. But due to my Mother’s diagnosis at such a young age and the fact that so many women on my father’s side developed several types of female cancers, the doctor recommended that I have regular breast MRIs every 6 months. I had no idea what I was in store for.
Around the time I had the genetic testing done, I began to have pain in my left breast. The pain was fairly constant, and I became worried. I didn’t go to the doctor right away. I thought that maybe the pain was cyclical and that it would fade away with my menstrual cycle. It didn’t. Soon, I could feel thickening in the area I had pain. So I went to the doctor. I was told that there was no lump, but that there could be thickening felt. An MRI was ordered at the recommendation from genetic testing. I was told by the nurse that the thickening ‘could be nothing’ and that if anything was seen on the MRI we would go from there.
I was afraid. This was shortly after my Grandmother passed away so I was dealing with this basically on my own. When the day came for me to go to my MRI appointment, I had a friend with me for support. But she had to stay in the waiting room so I was still basically on my own. I remember having to strip out of my street clothes and changing into the awkward hospital gown. There were two nurses who brought me into the MRI room. I was told to lay on my stomach and each of the women grabbed one of my breasts and placed them into what looked like cone shaped, inverted baskets. I started crying and each of the nurses were sympathetic. I essentially cried for the entire 45 mins I had to lay there in the MRI machine. When it was over, I couldn’t get up fast enough to put my clothes back on. It took about a week for me to hear back about my results and although they came back negative, I still felt like I was still at a huge disadvantage because my mother had cancer so young.
Shortly after my 26th birthday, I realized that I was technically older than my other would ever get to be and that everyday for me was a game of Russian Roulette of some sort. I looked into a plastic surgeon in hopes that an insurance funded breast reduction would lessen my chances of developing breast cancer. At the time, I was significantly overweight and the surgeon was unwilling to perform the procedure until I got to a healthier weight. Back then, I wasn’t in the head-space I am now about nutrition and fitness. So, needless to say, I did not get a breast reduction.
My whole life, I’ve sort of had this running joke with myself that I should just eat and do what I want and die happy (in theory) because I’m screwed anyway. With the amount of illness on both sides of my family, I just figured there was no hope so might as well live my life. But in reality, it is possible to break generational and genetically predisposed illness and diseases from occurring with a simple lifestyle change. My outlook is different now. I hate the color pink but every October I wear my pink with pride in honor of my Mother. Cancer of any sort is a whole different type of monster that I am not prepared to reckon with.