I just came home to see everyone tweeting about Angelina Jolie’s incredibly courageous and well-written Op Ed in the New York Times about how she recently underwent a double mastectomy. Look, I might be Team Aniston for life, but I’ve gotta give Angelina big props for bringing awareness to something like this — in fact, I was surprised to read her story because I too have some personal experience with this, and thanks to Angelina Jolie, this is something that will help other women who have a history of breast cancer in their family and are likely carriers of BRCA1 to be proactive. See, you don’t have to be a celebrity to get tested. If you are high risk, then you should. There is no reason you shouldn’t.
Around four years after my mom passed away from breast cancer, her oncologist — who was also a family friend — finally convinced me to begin the process of being tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 (it’s pronounced “bracka,” BTW). For a long time I had resisted the idea of taking the test because I had seen my mother succumb to the disease and I couldn’t even begin to think of how it could be something I might have to face in the not-to-distant future when I was just in my early 20s. But thanks to my mom’s oncologist, and encouragement from my father and brother and some of my mom’s closest friends, I finally took the test. And it’s not like you’re dealing with some SAT bullshit or something — it’s simple; they prick your finger and then you talk to a genetic counselor about your family history, and because I was such a high risk candidate (my mother and her mother before her had also died of breast cancer) my insurance covered 95% of the fee. And even if it didn’t? It would still be worth every penny.
My results were mailed to me a few months later, and I remember it was a weekday when I wasn’t at work (I had been in LA for less than a year at that point) — I guess I stayed home sick or something, although I don’t really remember being all that sick, but I do remember checking the mail and finding a large envelope with papers and test results and I remember leafing through them to learn that no, I did not carry BRCA1 or BRCA2. And then I burst into tears. Finally getting the test results had provided a sort of closure — closure on my mother’s passing, closure on my own fears, closure on uncertainty, closure on all the “what if” questions that lingered in the back of my mind.
I am thankful I took the test. I don’t even think about it much anymore these days, and if I hadn’t come home tonight and checked Twitter to see what people were talking about, I imagine I would go another three years forgetting about it. But I am lucky. Unlike Angelina Jolie, my chances of getting breast cancer are not almost-guaranteed, so I don’t need to worry about getting a preventative mastectomy. However, I am still at risk — and at a higher risk than the average woman my age and race and demographic, simply because of my family history. But I am informed, and I am aware, and that gives me power and strength and courage, and those are the things that help to combat sadness, grief, concern and fear. Cancer sucks. So if you can do something about it, do something.
Hey sweety, how much did the test cost?
I lost both my grandmothers to breast cancer and my mother had already a “harmless” tumor and a knot removed in her breasts, so my risk is already very high.
However, I am low on money and would still try my best to get do the test, just to be sure, to have closure.