I’m going to be honest…cancer is not something that I really like to talk about. After seeing the women in my family over generations deal with the effects of breast and ovarian cancer, just the thought of it honestly strikes fear into my heart. It stops me in my tracks and I’ll admit, I’ve had more than one panic attack just thinking about the probability that I will one day get a positive cancer diagnosis. So when AstraZeneca asked me to partner with them to share why I choose to #beBRCAware, I wanted to get honest with you guys. And I wanted to give you a very real look at what life as a person with the BRCA gene mutation looks like.
Breast and ovarian cancer run deep in my family. Growing up, I knew all about it. Shortly after having my first baby, I watched my mom go through a mastectomy. But honestly, I tried to just put the thought of whether or not I was at risk out of my head. After all, I was young. I was in the middle of having babies. And the last thing I wanted to think about was my risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
So, I kept going in life. I did my monthly breast cancer self-checks and kept my appointment for pap smears. I’ll be honest and say I downplayed my family’s history at doctor’s appointments so that I didn’t have to hear the same warnings that I’d heard my whole life. But a few years ago, my doctor encouraged me to be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes; the genes that are involved with cell growth, cell division and cell repair and are often associated with a positive breast of ovarian cancer diagnosis. It was part of an overall larger genetic testing recommendation and while I didn’t really want the results, I went along with it. Why you ask? Well, simply because I wasn’t asked to take the testing based on my family history. My doctor informed me that while I did have a history, family history and age are poor predictors of BRCA status, especially in ovarian cancer patients. So regardless or whether or not there was that history in my family, getting tested was the smart thing to do.
Now if you read my blog, you already know how those tests came back. You know that I have the BRCA gene. But what you don’t know is what life with it looks like. I don’t look any different on the outside. I don’t feel any different. If you asked me if having the BRCA gene has changed my life, quite simply the answer would be no. It’s made me more diligent. But it hasn’t altered who I am in any fundamental way.
And yet two times a year, I now go to my doctor for a check of all my lady parts. With each and every visit my heart beats just a little faster and that sick feeling in my gut returns. Because I know that I am at risk for a positive diagnosis. And I know that in one day, my life could drastically change.
But where this knowledge used to cause fear, it now gives me power. It makes me put a little more importance on doctor’s appointments and taking care of myself. It makes me conscious of the risk which surprisingly enough wasn’t just tied to my family history. It causes me to be aware of changes in my body and risk factors for ovarian cancer without being constantly fearful. I causes me to be brave.
So, why am I sharing all of this with you? Well, quite simply, September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness month. And just as I have bi-annual reminders of the fact that my health is not guaranteed, this is your reminder that your lifestyle, your family history and even your age aren’t necessarily the only things that determine your ovarian cancer risk.
This September, I challenge you to consider the reasons to get tested for the BRCA gene mutation. Don’t just rely on your family history because almost half of the BRCA-positive ovarian cancer patients have no significant family history or ovarian or breast cancer. Instead, arm yourself with knowledge so that YOU are in control of your health. Getting tested is as simple as having a blood or saliva sample taken at your physician’s office or local lab. It’s painless…I promise. And generally in two to three weeks, you’ll know your BRCA status.
And if you are positive? No, you likely won’t feel different. But you’ll be different. You’ll be diligent. You’ll be prepared. And you’ll be in control of the future of your health care.
When I look back to the age during which my great-grandmother had ovarian cancer, I know it was a subject that wasn’t really talked about. But we, as women, can change that today. Let’s stand up together. Let’s tell the world that more than 21,000 new cases of ovarian cancer will be diagnosed in the US in 2015. Let’s let women everywhere know that the risk of developing ovarian cancer is 1 in 73. And then let’s take the fear out of those numbers by being educated. Being prepared. And being tested for the BRCA gene.
Start educating yourself today by watching the video below.
Then start a conversation with your friends and family members about ovarian cancer and the importance of BRCA testing. Because while cancer is scary, learning to be proactive about my health has been one thing that gives me confidence to know that while I can’t change my genetic risks, I can take charge of how I deal with them.
I received $150 from AstraZeneca, and any opinions expressed by me are honest and reflect my actual experience. This is a sponsored post for SheSpeaks/AstraZeneca.