This week, Christina Applegate shared with the public that she has undergone a prophylactic double mastectomy. A month ago, she confirmed that she did have breast cancer and also tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which means she may have as high as an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 55% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Yikes. So Christina chose to have both breasts removed to assure her recovery from breast cancer; she is also beginning the long and painful process of breast reconstruction. (An excellent and informative article about Christina’s process of a double mastectomy and reconstruction can be found here. Please read!)
I have to say, reading about her choice has had me sitting and thinking.
(Sidebar: What is it about hearing “real life” stories from a celebrity that makes something like breast cancer more real? I am kind of annoyed at myself for that but, regardless, she got me thinking about my boobs again.)
You all know I have a special little closet in the back of my mind where I store all of my breast cancer stress. So, Christina and her recent news have led me back to my little closet to nervously peer inside there once again.
Hi boobs of mine! How ya doing? Ok. So. Any lumps today? (Quick self exam… no lumps… oh HI, the neighborhood crazy guy is walking by. Yes and I’m in front of the window. Hello, I am feeling myself, now go back to being crazy…) So yeah, breasts of mine, whats going to happen to you? Do you have anything you want to tell me? Any gene mutations you might want to share with me? Yes? No? Do I need to go in there and check for myself?
Now as I have mentioned before, while I have had stacks of breast cancer in my family, it has all occurred post menopausal. And, my understanding is that none of my relatives have tested positive for this gene mutation. But. There is always a but. Does that mean I shouldn’t get myself tested for it? My doctor gave me a little pamphlet about it at my last GYN exam. It’s certainly not an impossibility. Again, we have stacks of breast cancer in my family. Something is up. And even assuming the best case scenario with negative test results, that doesn’t mean I won’t get breast cancer eventually anyway.
In fact, I even happened to check out a little Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool found at the cancer.gov website. And here’s what they told me:
5 Year risk
- This woman (age 35) 0.6%
- Average woman (age 35): 0.3%
Based on the information provided (see below), the woman’s estimated risk for developing invasive breast cancer over the next 5 years is 0.6% compared to a risk of 0.3% for a woman of the same age and race/ethnicity from the general U.S. population. This calculation also means that the woman’s risk of NOT getting breast cancer over the next 5 years is 99.4%.
- This woman (to age 90): 19.7%
- Average woman (to age 90): 12.6%
Based on the information provided (see below), the woman’s estimated risk for developing invasive breast cancer over her lifetime (to age 90) is 19.7% compared to a risk of 12.6% for a woman of the same age and race/ethnicity from the general U.S. population.
Not horrible results. Just a 7% chance more than the average woman. But they only asked for first-degree relatives, so they only noted my mother. They didn’t take into account my aunt (two lumpectomies), my grandmother (one mastectomy and one lumpectomy), or my grandfather’s sister who died from breast cancer. I’m just saying. It’s a small, very general internet tool. I should hardly be lulled into a comfy “only 7% increased chance” sense of security.
When friends hear about my breast cancer history, they sit right up and start fretting. And often they do ask me “Would you ever consider a double mastectomy? If it could possibly save your life, if it could mean you wouldn’t have to face even post menopausal breast cancer, why wouldn’t you consider it? Don’t you want to be around for your family?”
(Hmmm, I wonder if this is actually my conscious talking. I’m suspicious. It sure sounds a LOT like her.)
But, ok. Chop my boobs off? I mean, c’mon. Wow. Yikes. Owch. I just. I mean. …I don’t *WANT* to! (Insert “whine” here.)
My breasts, while hardly heaving masses of flesh attracting eyes for miles around, have been really good to me. They fit my frame, they have never been in the way (now THAT’S a “glass is half full” way to look at my size B size A cups), and they are kinda cute. Well, they were at least before I breastfed my kids. But, THAT is their greatest feat yet. My girls, petite as they are, managed to nourish my two wonderful boys for 14 months each. They gave me an awesome supply and they withstood the abuse they endured from freakishly hungry babies. I feel some solidarity for all that we have been through.
Granted, they could just turn around and stab me in the back someday with a sudden small possibly metastasizing lump. Shoot. They could just up and kill me.
So, Christina Applegate has got me thinking about them. And chopping them off. I’m certainly not ready for something so dire and don’t have any current reason to consider it yet. (Like a tree falling in the woods, if you don’t test for a gene, is it still there?) I suppose I will hold on to them for now. Keep doing my breast checks, getting mammograms and hassling my doctor.
I may even do that gene test after all. I want to know.
And if a double mastectomy were ever something I should seriously consider, I would absolutely weigh the options. So, friends and conscious of mine, I would do it if I had to.
As long as I could get the perfect size B cups size C cups (which would still fit my frame. Sure. Absolutely. And I bet my husband would agree wholeheartedly).
(Another Sidebar: Reconstructive surgery is not the instant fix for a mastectomy that you might think it is. It can take over a year or more of painful surgery to bring your breasts back to fighting form. In the article I referenced above and noted here, Dr. Avisar is even quoted as saying about reconstructive surgery: “The majority of patients … don’t go the whole 9 yards. …Many of them never come back to have the nipple and areola reconstructed. They are just tired and they have had enough.” Reconstructing two breasts after a mastectomy is not, by any means, your typical boob job.)
Finally, I just want to give a shout out to all of the bloggers out there supporting efforts to prevent breast cancer. I am a bit late to the party here but I would like to spread some breast cancer linky love.
First of all, if you ever want to raise money for Breast Cancer awareness, please visit the Susan G. Komen For the Cure website. In case you have been living on the moon and didn’t know, there are annual runs and walks to raise money for the cure.
Also, a fellow blogger at Toddler Planet has done amazing work spreading awareness about her own fight with inflammatory breast cancer (symptoms for this form of breast cancer are not lumps as you would expect). Please read her story here. She also has a wonderful section of her blog dedicated to how to help a friend who has been diagnosed with breast cancer with excellent links and suggestions. Read this information here. She has a group of bloggers – team WhyMommy - supporting her. Bloggers such as Dirt and Noise raced for the cure in her honor.
And what, in my humble opinion, do I think is the best way to spread breast cancer awareness? Well, blogging of course! Here are some great breast cancer blogs that I found through Jayne’s Breast Cancer Blog. (I am sure there are hundreds more out there too):
And I am loving the “Save the Ta-Tas” gear found here too, buy something.
Do you have any other important links to share? Post them.
Keep feeling those boobies, girls. I know I am regularly feeling mine. And holding on to mine – for dear life.
(Note: The image above was taken from The Breast Cancer Fund website.)