Facing My Risks
Being an athlete you tend to follow rules, or at least do the best that you can, so you can be the best competitor. I no longer compete but I do try to follow the values I have had my whole life. I eat well, get about the right amount of sleep everyday. (Some days less because of work or play but who doesn’t?) I drink enough water most days, keep my stress levels down, exercise almost everyday, I surround myself with motivated people, the list goes on. That all can change with the flip of a switch.
In the early fall of 2017, I had a normal OBGYN appointment. When they performed the normal breast check up, I randomly had my grandmother pop into my head. She died very young from breast cancer. I had never thought of it before, as I didn’t get checkups that often, but I was getting closer to the age that she died. I decided to ask the physician about my grandma and what my risks were. She decided, as a precaution, that I should get a genetic test done to see what my risks were. My first thought was how much would this “cost”? She then proceeded to let me know it was going to be covered. I was relieved that it was covered, and I wouldn’t have to weigh the cost of the test, against not knowing my cancer risks. So I decided to get a genetic test not really knowing what the information would tell me.
I went to the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center where I got my blood drawn for my genetic test. Walking into the cancer center, my stomach twisted and turned, I instantly felt overwhelmed, sad and a little scared. There were patients that were very sick, bald, and going through chemo. I watched my grandfather die the year before from a terminal illness, and walking into RMCC I had a mild panic attack, my stomach felt like it was in a knot and I couldn’t take deep breaths anymore. I still wasn’t quite sure what I was doing, and couldn’t really articulate to myself what the possible outcomes were. But, I trusted some sort of compass deep down in me, taking the option to “know” was the most natural, even though terrifying, thing for me to do.
At RMCC I was told by a genetic counselor getting the genetic test done would affect my life insurance. I didn’t really understand why they would tell me that, so I asked “ If I get cancer, won’t that affect my life insurance?” I felt conflicted, why wouldn’t I get the genetic test done then? To find out if I had any risk ahead of time? I was alone with the counselor I didn’t know at that moment if I should go through with getting the test done, as even going through with test would have major implications, regardless of the results. But I didn’t want my mom to worry, my significant other to worry, so I decided on my own. This is my body they don’t need to help me make this choice. After the blood draw the counselor told me it would take a few weeks to find out the results. She gave me the option of coming back in and sitting down to be told my results, or to be called on the phone. Most of society likes to ignore death, so naturally, my choice was to be told over the phone.
Weeks went by, and honestly I had forgotten that I got the test done. They were testing for all types of cancer. Our brains are funny, we can prioritize and categorize every week, to everyday and then compartmentalize as a survival technique. We can choose to ignore and forget if we really want to. So I did. Until, on November 18th, I got the call. I was first asked if I was with anyone, I responded with a no, I was at an allergist appointment. The woman on the phone then said, “I am so sorry honey, you are BRCA1 positive please make an appointment with us. Please call us when you have questions, take this time today and let it sink in, this is a lot to take in.” I didn’t feel any different that day. I didn’t know exactly what BRCA1 was, I didn’t do my research after that day I got my genetic test done. After getting the test done at RMCC, I did the normal day to day occupying my thoughts with everyday life. I then proceeded to research on my phone while waiting at my allergist appointment what BRCA1 meant. I then got my allergy shot, walked out and called my mom. My mom,“Hi sweetie, how are you?”. I could not hold any emotion in it was like a flood of tears that couldn’t stop, I was so overwhelmed. I could barely spit my words out to her. She has this calmness to her voice like a light summer breeze. I took a few deep breaths and communicated what I could to her. She said everything was going to be okay.
Fast, forward about few months after numerous appointments. I wasn’t sick yet I was starting to feel like I would be. I now knew what I wanted to do. I had made my final decision, I was getting a prophylactic double mastectomy at age 26. I was still not sure what my outcome for fitness was going to be after the surgery. I had had labrum surgery a few years back and it took about 8 months to fully come back to the strength I had before. It was a sea of the unknown for the process after, all I knew was that my chances of getting breast cancer would be reduced by 95%, lower than the general population, after this surgery. It has been more than 5 months since I had the mastectomy and I am still recovering. I have no restrictions, but I still have a long ways to go.