Facing a BRCA1 mutation and breast cancer at age 30
No one expects to hear she has breast cancer two months after turning 30. I didn’t.
I danced flamenco, exercised frequently, was neither overweight nor a smoker -- and I was only 30! How could this happen to me?
My unexpected breast cancer diagnosis After feeling a second of pain -- a small pinch -- in my left breast, I noticed a large bump. I was in shock, scared. I reached out to my OB-GYN right away.
A mammogram, an ultrasound and a biopsy later, I was diagnosed with stage II breast cancer.
I was in shock. I had two cousins (sisters) with breast cancer in their 30s, an aunt with breast cancer, a cousin who died from brain cancer, and two cousins and an uncle with melanoma. But I’d never expected to have cancer, not now.
Why I chose MD Anderson When I got my breast cancer diagnosis, going to MD Anderson was a clear and easy choice. There are a lot of great hospitals here in Houston, but the best place to be if you have cancer is MD Anderson. That's their focus -- ending cancer.
Plus, one of my cousins with breast cancer had been successfully treated at MD Anderson, so I knew I would be in the best hands.
From the first time I stepped into the hospital, I knew that this was where I was supposed to be. Everyone was so nice and treated me with respect. They made me feel important.
Preserving my fertility After meeting with Dr. Valero and learning that I needed chemotherapy, I faced another fork in the road: Chemotherapy can leave you sterile. Terri Woodward, M.D., in MD Anderson’s Oncofertility Clinic gave me the choice of undergoing fertility treatment and freezing my eggs.
The possibility of becoming sterile was the hardest news I had received yet. I knew cancer wasn’t going to kill me, not now. But the idea of not being able to have kids hit me hard.
After discussing it with friends and family, I decided to go through with fertility treatment. Two weeks of fertility drugs and a procedure later, we froze some of my eggs in case I needed or wanted them in the future.
I highly recommend other young women and men do the same, if they have time and clearance from their doctors. It put my mind at ease to know that I had a backup plan if chemo left me sterile.
Genetic testing: Making my diagnosis easier to understand Since several family members have had cancer at a young age, I also was referred to a genetic counselor at MD Anderson. After doing genetic testing, I learned that I have a BRCA1 gene mutation.
This cleared up a lot of things for me. I didn’t have cancer because I wasn’t healthy. I had breast cancer because of my BRCA1 mutation.
Having this information made it easier for me to make treatment decisions. I opted for a double mastectomy to reduce the risk of recurrence. Because the BRCA mutation also increases my chances of developing ovarian cancer, I’ll get my ovaries removed once I’m done having kids. Until then, I’ll get screened for ovarian cancer every six months.
After I learned I had the BRCA1 mutation, several family members got tested. My aunt and her daughter -- who also tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation – have since gotten prophylactic double mastectomies to reduce their chances of getting breast cancer. My sister, who also tested positive, is next.
Life after breast cancer Thanks to my doctors, medicine and science, I can now say that I am a 30-year-old breast cancer survivor! I’m grateful for every minute in every day. I cry more easily, feel more passionately, and love more deeply.
I just had my reconstructive surgery a month ago and got my expanders switched out for implants. I'm not back to Flamenco dancing yet, but I can't wait. I’m also looking forward to going to Zumba and yoga classes, and getting back to my normal activities. Even the idea of not needing help to do simple chores is exciting.
What I want other young cancer patients to know Since my diagnosis, I have felt an urgency to help other young cancer patients. I now volunteer with myCancerConnection, MD Anderson’s one-on-one support program that connects cancer patients and caregivers with others who have been there.
As I tell other patients, my positive attitude had a lot to do with my success. There are very hard days, but try to find at least one good thing in your day. Yes, cancer sucks and yes, young people get cancer, but cancer doesn't have to take over your life!