By: Martianne Stanger
Since the Angelina Jolie breast surgery story broke some months ago, friends, family members and acquaintances have asked me about how my own BRCA2 decision has been going. Many are surprised – and not always happily so – with the answer I give them.
My decision is unconventional by today’s standards and “risky” in many folk’s opinions. However, it is a choice that I have made through prayer, research, discussion with my husband, and reflection. And, I can honestly say that, just as Angelina Jolie is reported to be happy with her choice to move forward with prophylactic surgeries, I am at peace with my own decision about the next steps I will take as an individual on Team (Maybe) Cancer.
So, what is my decision?
To remain BRCA2 and whole for as long as life allows and, should cancer strike, to then consider surgery.
Yes, you did just read that right. I am saying that I am not removing body parts just yet and that I may never do so. For while I am pleased to have a competent allopathic medicine team on my side, as well as comforted to know that they are both ready and willing to do whatever they can to help me prevent (or remove) cancer, I am equally impressed by the work of natural health care proponents, such as the naturopath Judy Seeger and cancer-survivor Brenda Cobb. I agree that prophylactic surgeries are an option for dealing with a BRCA2 diagnosis, but I also know that they are not they only one. Further, I am coming to believe that, depending on personal circumstances, traditional cancer protocol (surgeries, chemo, radiation, etc.), natural healing therapies (sans the traditional protocols) or some combination of the two can be a “right” choice should a BRCA2 diagnosis become a cancer one.
Luckily, right now, I don’t have to make that choice. I am on Team MAYBE Cancer, not Team Cancer and, until the changes – which God-willing it won’t – I have decided that surgery is not the “right choice” for me. Instead I am opting to listen to my doctors part-way and to my heart all the way, in doing the following:
- Continuing with yearly mammograms and MRI’s to screen for breast cancer, but unless there is a huge anomaly, forgoing more frequent follow-ups that always seem to be recommended by my doctors after my yearly test results come in. (The fact is that every MRI I have had has come back with small areas of concern that my doctors deem noteworthy enough to follow up on, but my insurance argues differently. They say further testing is “experimental” and/or “unnecessary.” I fought this at first, but have since decided not to put as much energy into it. Call me crazy. I call me seeking to remain peaceful, because peace promotes health.)
- Continuing with CA125 blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds biannually, but stopping the seemingly endless cycle of six-week follow up ultrasounds that were beginning to become the norm for me. Of course, if there is a large, significant finding on one of my biannual ultrasounds, I will do a follow up, but I am “all done” with constant follow-ups that are costly, time consuming and inconclusive – in the sense that the only conclusion seems to be, “You’ll need another follow up in six weeks.” I know my doctors have to recommend such follow-ups based on their experience – and, at the risk of irking some folks by saying this, also feel they recommend them because we live in such a ridiculously litigation-happy society. However, I have also realized I have the right to delay or refuse the follow-ups. Considering that my first few follow-ups were on cysts that appeared on one side, then disappeared and appeared on the other side, I am comfortable delaying further testing until the next six month mark.
- Adding one positive health/lifestyle/dietary choice to my life at a time until it becomes a habit, then adding another, and another, thereby (I hope!) empowering myself to become someone who never has to face breast nor ovarian cancer head-on despite my genes, or, at least if I have to face cancer, to do so from a standpoint of being as mentally, physically and spiritually strong as possible.
So, there you have it. My personal BRCA2 protocol in a nutshell – and let me stress the MY. If YOU are a BRCA2 positive person, you need to make your own choices based on YOUR needs, your team’s advice and your heart. Reading stories about Angelina Jolie, Martianne Stanger or any of the women on FORCE – which is a great support site for BRCA folks, can help you research, think and reflect, but only YOU can make your own choice.
Whatever your choice is, I hope you come to a place of peace similar to the one I have come to. For I have truly realized what is “right” for me right now.
My medical team is in place. Natural healing coaches are identified. Allopathic procedures are helping me maintain surveillance at a pace that makes sense to me. Diet and lifestyle choices are strengthening my body. Faith continually strengthens my spirit. All things are working together for good for now and I am at peace being BRCA2 and whole.