By: Martianne Stanger
About 10 years ago, I decided to get tested for “the breast cancer gene” and found out that I am BRCA2+. Then, in 2012, the decision of whether or not to have prophylactic surgery loomed largely in my mind and heart. By 2013, against the suggestions of some doctors and extended family members, I decided to remain BRCA2+ and whole.
My plan was to:
- Continue with yearly mammograms and MRI’s to screen for breast cancer.
- Continue with CA125 blood tests and pelvic ultrasounds biannually, accepting orders for follow-ups only if “big issues” arose.
- Add one positive health/lifestyle/dietary choice to my life at a time until it became a habit, then add another, and another, thereby (I hope!) empowering myself to become as mentally, physically, and spiritually strong as possible in case I ever had to face what some said was “inevitable” breast or ovarian cancer.
Of course, though, life is what happens when you’re making other plans.
As I have moved through life over the past five years, my plan did not come to fruition. The string of healthy habits that I intended to form stalled. Some of my screenings were missed, and a few came back which required follow ups.
Several years ago, a spot was noted on one of my breasts which resulted in orders for a biopsy, but the day I went for the biopsy and got more information about how large the spot was and how long it had been there, I decided to wait. The spot was small. It appeared not to have grown over a year or two. It was possible it was not cancerous at all.
After talking to the radiologist, I opted to wait until my next regular mammogram’s results before moving forward with a biopsy.
It was a gamble, I knew, but one I was comfortable taking – and one my husband supported me with.
Praise God. It turned out to be a positive gamble. The spot disappeared.
Then, this past fall, I wondered if I had made a poor choice. I began having increasingly frequent and prolonged sensations in the same breast the spot had been on. I was not pain, per se, more like the feeling of let down when you are nursing, but prolonged and intense.
“Dr. Google” said bad things about warm sensations in breasts and the fact that they were on the same breast as my former spot was in had me worried. Very worried.
More worrying was that my breast doctor had moved out of state, I had failed to get a new doctor, and I had been overlooking some of my regular screenings.
Thankfully, though, I have a wonderful primary care physician who got me in for an MRI quickly, and, also thankfully, that MRI came back with results that the breast of concern is clear.
Still a warning sounded: Oddly my other breast has a “spot of concern“.
So, I got a new breast doctor – who was wonderful, spent time talking to me about a number of things, did a physical exam, and ordered a speedy follow-up ultrasound and possible biopsy. She also explained that, although the sensations I had been having on my clear breast were not what would describe as pain, but rather a warmth and strong sensation, she’d consider them classic breast pain – and a warning to “pay attention inward now”.
When I went in for the ultrasound, no spot was detected, so I was advised, at first, to go for an MRI biopsy. However, upon further review of past MRI’s and discussion with the radiologist and my breast surgeon, we decided to simply follow up with another screening in a few months.
If I am lucky, this new spot will disappear just like the one on my other breast did. If not, well, we’ll deal with it then.
In the meantime, my latest leg of being BRCA+, coupled with a conversation that I had with my doctors and the sadly high number of people that I know personally who are currently battling cancer, has me considering recanting my former “BRCA2+ and whole” decision.
For, as I understand, there are still no good screenings for ovarian cancer and more and more women who have decided to prophylacticly remove their ovaries have been found to have occult cancer in them. With this in mind, since my child-bearing years have passed and alarm warnings keep sounding for me, I am considering an oophorectomy.
Appointments are made. Prayers are being said. Healthier eating habits have begun. More regular exercise is being worked into my daily life. Better bedtimes are reviving. And, a desire to make the right choices for right now for my BRCA+ journey remains strong.
I am at peace again for now.
And you? If YOU are BRCA2+, as I have said before, your peace may come from a very different protocol than mine. 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 as to the best protocol for your personal health.
Whatever your choice you make, I pray you come to a place of peace similar to the one I am at again. May we all live well with what’s right for ourselves right now.