My gut told me for years that I could have a genetic mutation predisposing me to cancer. My healthy mother was diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer when she was 37. Although she was the first in our family to have breast cancer, she seemed too young in my mind to have the disease. Insurance would cover my genetic testing when I turned 35, but before I got the chance to schedule that after my birthday, my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She was quickly given the genetic test, which revealed two mutations.
I had my testing done immediately. When I got the call asking me to come into my doctor’s office to discuss my results, I knew I had a genetic mutation. Upon arrival at the office a few hours later, I was told I actually have two: the commonly known BRCA2 mutation and also one that has been researched less called MUYTH. My doctor told me I was the first of her patients to ever receive positive genetic testing results, so this would be the first time for both of us to navigate this process. She also told me, with a chuckle, that I had won the genetic lottery.
As I rocked my six-month old daughter to sleep that night, I quietly wept in the dark. I felt brave before getting the test done. I was mentally prepared for the choices I would make if my results showed I had a mutation. I told myself I would get a mastectomy and a hysterectomy and move on with my life, focusing on living in the healthiest way possible. I told myself these were easy decisions and I was ready to move forward. I didn’t want to live another day without knowing if I was at a high risk for cancer. I told myself that the knowledge would be a gift to my family. But now that I had the results, I felt so overwhelmingly scared. My mother was battling late stage ovarian cancer that had spread throughout her abdomen. Would this also be my fate? What if I was too late and I already had cancer growing in my body? Even worse, would this be the fate of my children? Had I made them genetic mutants without knowing?
The days and weeks that followed were a blur. During the day, I was visiting my mother at the hospital as she recovered from major cancer debulking surgeries. I tried to put on a brave face for her while in my mind I was imagining myself in her place. I had so much admiration for her bravery and positivity during her cancer battles, and I knew she probably felt some guilt for passing on her two genetic mutations to me. I completely understood that guilt because I felt the same regarding my own two children.
When I was home at night and had a little time to mentally process all that was going on my life, I felt overwhelmed. I didn’t have cancer, but my new oncologist was telling me I would, at some point in my life. When and what type? Those were the wildcards. I felt like I had opened a medical version of pandora’s box. I knew that if I moved forward with the recommended surgeries, my body would never be the same. The thought of going from breastfeeding straight to menopause in my 30s made me sick. I just wanted to be home enjoying and bonding with my baby, but I knew if I ignored these problems the chance of me not being in her life down the road was significant.
Over the coming weeks, I felt the brave woman inside of me start to return. I needed to be strong for my children, my husband, and my parents. My mother hadn’t been given this gift of knowledge, and I truly was fortunate. My results weren’t what I had hoped for, but it was time to move on and do something about it. It almost felt as if I had gone through the grieving process after receiving my test results. What was I grieving? Additional children, the premenopausal stage of life, breasts that had nourished my kids from their first days in my arms, and also health. I was grieving the clean bill of health I had enjoyed for years. Once I allowed myself the time and space to grieve these things, I felt ready to move on with my journey.