Like most of the women in my family, I carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, which means that if I did nothing, my risk of developing breast cancer at some point in my life would be around 85 percent. I’d seen firsthand what that looks like; my great-grandmother, grandmother, mother, and two aunts have all battled breast cancer. My future, it seemed, had already been cast.
So after learning I could lower my risk of getting breast cancer to under 3% by having a double mastectomy, it felt as close to a no-brainer as a major surgery can get. Even though I’m only 39 and my recent mammogram, ultrasound, and breast MRI were all clear, I knew taking control of my health and being proactive was the right choice for me. So on the day of my surgery last October, I walked into the hospital smiling, empowered, and ready.
I had no idea that on the day of my preventive double mastectomy, I was also walking into the hospital as a woman already living with breast cancer.
It’s standard procedure to test the breast tissue removed during a preventive mastectomy because in a small percentage of cases, doctors find previously undetected cancerous tissue already present. My chest was still fully bandaged with a faucet of bright red fluid pouring out of my sides through drains when I received a call from my doctor: I was one of those rare cases.
“You had breast cancer,” she told me. I couldn’t comprehend her words.
My doctor explained that I had stage zero noninvasive breast cancer (DCIS), meaning my cancer had not spread into the surrounding breast tissue. The good news? The double mastectomy I’d just had meant that I was now cancer-free—no chemo, radiation, or hormonal treatment necessary. I had beaten breast cancer before I even knew I had it.
At first I felt like I was free falling. I’d had breast cancer. Watching generations of women in my family wage their battles did not prepare me for hearing those words myself. A million thoughts raced through my mind and I couldn’t hold on to any of them. I had been so prepared for my preventive mastectomy—doing research, setting up calls with other women who’d had my surgery, taking vitamins and supplements—and now I was at a loss. I wasn’t a previvor; suddenly I was a full-blown cancer survivor. I was completely caught off guard.
When I first found out I was BRCA positive, I didn’t tell anyone for months. I wanted to make a decision on whether to have surgery without being swayed by the experiences, fears, and opinions of others—it’s a major surgery and I wanted to consider it carefully. Even after I made my decision, there were family members and friends who still continued to question me. But at the end of the day, I knew down to my bones that removing my seemingly healthy breasts was the right decision for me.