Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Not only in Hollywood

Last week as news spread of Angelina Jolie coming forward about having a "preventative" bilateral mastectomy, I was first shocked because I normally prejudge Hollywood types to be vain and inhuman in many cases. Then I was relieved for her and as a mom of little children, I celebrate what she did.

First I must digress. After the billions of dollars raised for breast cancer research and how far we have come in a few decades on breast cancer treatment, the biggest preventative measure we have is a mutilating bilateral mastectomy? I try to imagine how fast and furiously scientist and doctors would work if the only preventative measure for any male genitalia cancers was surgical castration...

Now back to Ms. Jolie. She apparently tested positive for the BRCA1 gene which in lay mans terms meant she had an 87% chance of getting cancer later. Those are horribly sucky odds, and that alone would make a decision of the magnitude she made much easier (for me at least).

So what exactly is a mommy to do? I myself have a very long family history of cancer. It flipping runs rampant and is the scariest and most horrible thing you can think of for any of your family members to go through. Every woman older than me that I have a bloodline with other than my own mother has had breast or some other kind of cancer. Sow when I was diagnosed with Ductal Carcinoma In Situ - the early stages of breast cancer, I was not shocked, however I was shocked that I tested NEGATIVE for BRCA1 and BRCA2. But that did NOT mean I wouldn't get cancer because I was sitting there in a doctors office WITH cancer!

I listened to a surgeon tell me the different options that I had as far as treating my cancer. I could have gone lumpectomy with chemo therapy and radiation, I could have had a mastectomy of the affected breast with chemo, I could sit and wait it out and see later if it started to spread (SHOCKED THAT WAS AN OPTION). And then the Big Kahuna answer came. I could do a double mastectomy, and remove my ovaries, because my cancer was estrogen fed, and if there were stray cells anywhere in my body me producing estrogen would feed them. This would give me a 95% chance of SURVIVAL - it meant I GOT TO LIVE!!! - So I said "Can we do it tomorrow?"

Now my decision may not be for everyone. I looked at our life. I had a 1 and a 3 year old - at the time only one had autism. I have a husband that was devastated by autism, this nearly crushed him and I knew he could not handle months and months of chemo treatment as well as caring for a special needs child. I have experience family members and friends getting chemo, and it makes you so sick, and it's very painful process. I didn't want that for myself or my family.

So for my life and my children, what worked best for our family was the decision to have a bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy, at 41 years old. I was thrown into menopause, and thankfully there was no cancer in my lymph nodes, so I was basically a surgical case. I went through reconstruction, and the whole process took about 9 months. I worked a little slower than Ms. Jolie because I did have family help, but I did not have the army of hired help I'm sure she had. What my decision did was give me relief that I will not always be worrying with the breast cancer come back (even though it is a scary thought in my head daily). It made me want to be a healthy mom for my kids. It has made me a learning machine about my health and options, it has made me a better advocate for my children.

I admire Ms. Jolie for taking this brave step, but remind other women that it does happen amongst us. It wasn't the pretty celebration that it is publicized to be, it was emotional, and scary, and shook this woman to the core, and took all the parts that make you a woman away. After the shock and awe of all of that, you realize you where you were the day before the cancer call came in. You still have 2 kids that need you, a husband that loves you (even though this was a huge struggle for him he handled it well). AND I GOT THE BEST GIFT. I GOT TO LIVE!!!! I didn't want to just survive the cancer I wanted to LIVE, and raise my kids, and be silly, and happy, and enjoy the beautiful life, that may not be Hollywood, but it is awesome nonetheless.

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