Hiya! Howdy! Ahoy there, mateys! I’ve missed all of you. I have been so very absent from the blog lately, because I had no idea what the heck to tell any of you. So . . . I’m going to start at the very beginning- because “The Sound of Music” taught me that is a very good place to start. All of this is important, because it leads to a coming announcement for the Crazy, Chronic Life community- but I’m going to save that for a couple days.
If you’ve read our book, you know that medical research is important to me. So much so that I am registered with ResearchMatch.com to participate in medical research studies. Typically, it consists of me filling out questionnaires and submitting them to someone who is compiling data for a study. I received an e-mail asking me to participate in a genetic testing clinical trial at Vanderbilt University. All I had to do was allow the study coordinators to collect a vial of blood- and I got a $40 Amazon card. Character flaw admission- I will do almost anything for an Amazon gift card.
So . . . here’s the thing. If you allow someone to analyze your DNA, you will find out stuff about your DNA that you would prefer not to know. In my case, I got a letter (almost a year after I had given the blood sample) telling me I had a pathogenic mutation on the BRCA2 gene and should see my doctor immediately. Here’s the embarrassing part- I had no stinkin clue what that meant, so I shoved the letter in a drawer. I learned my coping skills from an ostrich apparently.
A month or so later during a check up with my PCP (I had lost 3 pounds since my last check up, so I was feeling rather proud of myself), I asked if he had any idea if a BRCA2 mutation was an issue. I’ll be honest; he did a google search in front of me. Then, he informed me that I had an 87% lifetime risk of having breast cancer. 87%, friends. Y’all, my boobs are trying to kill me, and I didn’t even know. He continued to tell me that the recommendation is to have a hysterectomy and oophorectomy by age 35 and a double mastectomy by 40. What the actual heck?
Now, I’m not the type to completely base my life on a Google search. So, I scheduled an appointment with my gynecologist- but remained relatively calm. I talked to Joe about it, and his initial response (and we’ve come along way since this time) was, “You can’t start cutting stuff of your body because you’re scared you might eventually get cancer.” To be honest, I agreed with his assessment of the situation at that point. Full disclosure: when I got the first problematic mammogram call back, Joe responded by vomiting, crying, and promptly melting down- in a public venue. Y’all, this has been an ORDEAL.
Jump ahead a few months, 2 genetic counseling visits, a high-risk coordinator visit, and a couple breast lump scares that turned out to be nothing, and I’m here. I have an over 80% chance of having breast cancer between the ages of 30 and 50. I have a greater than 50% chance of ovarian cancer- and an elevated pancreatic and melanoma cancer risk. I’m compiling numbers, so you might see higher and lower odds depending where you research. However, the point is, my body is just itching to make a tumor, because it has no idea how to NOT make tumors.
It’s been a scary few months- and the concerns have been so far outside of my normal realm of medical concerns that I haven’t felt equipped to process them. I haven’t told the CCL community, because I didn’t know where to begin. Now, as a new year is approaching, I feel empowered. While I had no idea when I entered this genetic study that I was going to get life changing information, I am grateful, because this information will inform my decisions (and my family’s- which is a whole different and serious blog) as I move forward. More importantly, I know to be vigilant about screenings and self-checks- things I had never considered prior to this information.
Why am I telling you all this? Because, I can’t stand for ‘peace, love, and health’ and keep major health secrets. Additionally, if you have a strong family history of cancer, I want to encourage you to have a genetic cancer panel. (I actually had a second panel completed in case the research study genetic test was flawed.) Waiting for results is torturous. The only thing worse is trying to understand and coordinate a plan once you have results. However, ultimately, knowledge is power.
I asked a patient leader group that I’m in what they do when they get a new diagnosis. I had literally no stinkin clue if I was supposed to be an advocate for EDS, POTS, chronic illness, invisible disabilities, and, oh yeah, BRCA mutations. I still don’t exactly know. However, if my story and my BRCA journey informs or inspires someone else- then I’m all in.
Peace, Love, and Health.