Breast cancer took my mother and grandmother but it won't take me.
Breast cancer has been a part of my life for as long as I can remember. When I was nine years old, my mother succumbed to breast cancer at the age of 45. I knew she was sick, but I didn’t know why or that her time on this earth would end so fast. Nine years later, as I prepared to enter my sophomore year of college. I got a call saying that my grandmother, her mother, had passed away. It was breast cancer. She hadn’t told anyone, but they say she knew. Shortly after my 21st birthday, my aunt, my mom’s little sister, called to tell me that she’d just been tested and found out that she had an abnormal BRAC1 gene, also known as “the breast cancer gene."
The doctor said her chances of making it to 45 without getting the disease were slim and she’d have to either get a double mastectomy or try an aggressive medication plan to increase her “odds of survival.” When my aunt called me, she sounded so scared and angry. Could you blame her? The doctor had basically given her what felt like a death sentence. According to them, she had a 90-percent chance of getting the disease within the next five years.
Once she’d given her doctor our family history, he’d told her that it was highly likely that the abnormal gene ran in our family and that although it was too late to test them, my mother and grandmother most likely had it too. My aunt was scared for herself, for her daughters, and for me. She told me I should get tested too, and fast. I was terrified.
I called my father and broke into tears, telling him I wasn’t ready to face those odds at 21. He told me to relax and not to claim something that may not be mine to claim. I didn’t understand this at first, so I rattled off all the scary statistics and how I didn’t want to die or rush my life plans over "the high chance of getting breast cancer." He said to me, “You are half your mother and half of me. There is no cancer on my side of the family. Doesn’t that give you a 50 percent chance of not having the gene? Or at least hope that you’ll be part of that 10 percent of people who don’t get breast cancer?” My father had no medical knowledge to back this up, but it did inspire me in a different way. i didn't know whether I had the gene or not, but I did know what I wanted to do next.
I decided that day that I was going to live like I knew for sure I was part of that 10 percent. I wasn’t going to run off to a doctor to ask for a test that didn’t tell me anything other than what my chances of dying before 35 could be. I didn’t have cancer, so why would I go seeking out an answer to a problem I didn’t have? I knew that being told I had the gene would only scare me, and I didn’t plan on living scared all through my 20s. I had a plan, but it didn’t include fear. I wasn’t going to let it in.
I went to my doctor at age 22 and told them my plan to wait to take the test and asked if medically that was the right call to make. They told me I was young, healthy, and nowhere near 30, and if didn’t want to be tested, it wasn’t unsafe not to. So I didn’t. Instead I did my best to forget about the gene. I wasn’t going to own breast cancer. I was going to own the future I’d planned for myself, no regrets.
I went ahead and got my masters degree, traveled, and lived my life as planned. When I was 26 my aunt called to tell me that she was celebrating. When I asked her why, she told me it’d been five years to the day since she’d been told she had the abnormal gene and she had just been to the doctor and was still 100 percent cancer-free. I was so happy for her. She’d chosen not to own her “sentence” either and look what had happened. The doctor’s were wrong.
I’m 29 now and my aunt is still breast cancer free and optimistic that she will stay that way. I haven’t taken the test yet. Sometimes I feel I should, but then I think about how that will change my life and I don’t like what it could lead to. I get regular breast exams and I keep a close watch on my breast health. The doctors have told me to start getting mammograms at 30, and I will. But in the meantime, I refuse to take a test in which the results could alter my mentality and therefore alter the course of my life as I see it. Rather then believe that breast cancer is waiting for me, I chose to believe there's no place for it in my future. My aunt is my inspiration and she supports my decision 100 percent. She says I inspire her.
Not everyone will agree with the choice I’ve made, and I understand that. But I can only hope that they will at least understand why I’ve made it. I’ve chosen not to live in fear of the statistical odds that may or may not be against me and instead live my life based on fact. The facts are simple: I don’t have breast cancer. I’m doing everything in my power to be sure I don’t get breast cancer, and God always has my back. In the meantime I’m going to live my life the way I’m sure my mother and grandmother would have wanted me to – happily and without a constant fear of the dying or the unknown. For now, I'm at peace with that.