Holding on to my Breasts.

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%

Explanation

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%.

Lifetime Risk

  • This woman (to age 90): 19.7%
  • Average woman (to age 90): 12.6%

Explanation

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.

Ugh.

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):

My Breast Cancer Blog
Mothers with Cancer
A Different Road Altogether
Biography of Breast Cancer
Can I be Pretty in Pink?
Gotta Keep on Keepin’ On
Reconstruct This
So, is Today a Good Day?

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.)

20 comments ↓

#1 ilinap on 08.21.08 at 4:18 pm

Thanks for posting about this. We take our breasts, like so many other things, for granted. I actually had breast reduction 9 years ago (size 32 DD to 32 B on my 100 pound 5 foot tall frame! I’m not making this shit up.). Anyway, I’ve never been attached to my breasts; in fact I’ve always abhorred them. I’d say sayonara in a second if it were me or the girls. No second thoughts. And in case you were wondering, I couldn’t breastfeed due to the surgery so my kids lost weight rapidly, and the whole thing was a nightmare. It’s a regret, for sure.

#2 justenjoyhim on 08.21.08 at 6:03 pm

Good post.

I just had a single mastectomy after 6 months of chemotherapy. I’ve had my moments of angst for losing a breast, but, at least for me, it hasn’t been so bad. My attitude was “I just want the cancer OUT” and that required removing the breast, so there you go.

I’m pretty sure that if I were BRCA+, like Christina Applegate, I would go for the double mastectomy. In fact, I considered it for myself — long story, but I won’t hijack your post.

I wish you well in the future and hope you don’t have to face any of this.

#3 justenjoyhim on 08.21.08 at 8:04 pm

Oh, and not all mastectomies look like those pictures, BTW. I have some breast tissue left. In other words, I’m not completely flat where my mastectomy was. I think it varies depending on how much cancer was in the breast and what kind of mastectomy a woman has (I had a modified radical mastectomy).

#4 Jenni on 08.21.08 at 8:53 pm

This was a really GREAT post. My mom just had a mastectomy and reconstruction on her left side this past December after her cancer returned 7 years after the initial chemo, radiation, and drug therapy. It’s on my mind often what I would/will do…

#5 tcmom on 08.21.08 at 9:36 pm

These are the kinds of comments that make every bit of blogging worth it. Thank you for sharing your stories.

Justenjoyhim – During my research I noticed how different the pictures were of women with mastectomies and I wondered why. I have learned so much just writing this post. “Getting the cancer out” – wow – no kidding. I still commend your bravery, you can hijack this or any post ANY time. :)

#6 Kacey on 08.21.08 at 10:21 pm

Great post. Always something to consider. So do you think you’ll get the gene test with so much breast cancer in your family? Or just hold off awhile longer? Tough call.

The girls aren’t that big of deal to me, but not sure I’d want to lose them…

#7 Holly at Tropic of Mom on 08.21.08 at 10:35 pm

Thanks for that. I think it must help that you have nursed two children, no? Breastfeeding is supposed to be a deterrent to breast cancer.

I plan on doing an American Cancer Society walk in October!

#8 Roads on 08.22.08 at 6:37 am

Thanks for providing the link to that Breast Cancer Risk Assessment tool. This kind of information will help women at genetic risk, including my daughter, to make better and more informed decisions in future.

#9 Starwoodgal on 08.22.08 at 11:06 am

We participate in the Race for the Cure every year as I have lost 7 friends (all before age 40) to breast cancer. I participate in Project 11 where everyone who signs up is sent an e-mail reminding them to “check” themselves on the 11th of each month.

Personally, I’m thinking about a reduction as my size is causing shoulder and back pain. I have a friend who had it done and she’s never regretted it. I have two friends that have undergone double mast. and no reconstruction. No regrets either.

Best of luck on whatever you decide. I’ll be praying for you.

#10 Your Hot SIL (not Meryl, you doofus) on 08.22.08 at 3:10 pm

Well, if it’s any consolation, according to that calculator, you aren’t at much more of a risk than I am, even without any family history to speak of.

For me we got for the next 5 years:

* This woman (age 38) 0.5%
* Average woman (age 38): 0.5%
.
Lifetime Risk

* This woman (to age 90): 11.2%
* Average woman (to age 90): 12.4%

I don’t think this calculator is that thorough, though. There are lots of other factors that can lower your chances (extended breastfeeding) or raise them (high fat diet, fibrous breast tissue, obesity) of getting Boobie Cancer. I hunted around and found this one if anyone is interested, it covers a bunch of female reproductive cancers.

http://www.wcn.org/interior.cfm?featureid=3&risk=yes&file=questions.cfm&CFID=2333508&CFTOKEN=21229386

#11 tcmom on 08.22.08 at 5:33 pm

MyHotSIL ;) You are so right. I think the calculator is limiting and not taking enough factors in at all. Not to mention the increased risk of B.C. if you are a drinker (damn, but my kids are making me insane) or a smoker. And awesome link too. You rock.

#12 Your Hot SIL (not Meryl, you doofus) on 08.22.08 at 8:23 pm

Yes, I do rock, If I do say so myself. Interestingly enough, while my alcohol intake is indeed a risk factor for me (whistles in an unconvincingly innocent manner), my biggest risk factors for breast cancer are being white, high income, and having a graduate degree.

I’d be bitter about that, but I’m strangely comforted to finally see a single mitigating factor to all this societal privilege I got handed to me at birth. God, I am a pathetic guilty liberal, aren’t I?

#13 Your Hot SIL (not Meryl, you doofus) on 08.22.08 at 8:27 pm

Oh, and lookie here! my age thirty eight somehow trips your smiley code for the little cool guy in sunglasses! So, to sum up, here are the cool things about my current age:

1) Three-eight makes cool smiley on SIL’s blog
2) Born in same year as Gwen Stephani and Dave Grohl, both of whom are undeniably cool.
3) Have less gray hair than younger brother, who is married to hot blogging SIL, but don’t tell him I said that, as he is big and still gives nasty wet willies.

#14 Morningside Mom's Mom on 08.26.08 at 2:21 am

Your girls may look small now but there is a bright side. When you get to my age, at least they are still in the same place!

I have had all the gene tests as you know and am part of a very big cancer study for about the last ten years. Sorry, I am not home and can not remeber its proper name. This group has kept me informed of new gene tests from time to time. They do take our family cancer history very seriously. As soon as I get home, I am due to give some more blood. At this point they are not suggesting gene testing, if an immediate family member is taking the tests and getting negative results, and if you are not 40. I will forward the study’s name as soon as I get home. They are a very good resource.

#15 justenjoyhim on 08.28.08 at 2:15 pm

I didn’t take the risk assessment since I already do have breast cancer. I suppose it wouldn’t hurt at this point, but it would probably just feel like salt in the proverbial wound.

At any rate, when I was waiting for the diagnosis and everyone was trying to be positive for me (which kind of pissed me off — yes, it really did!), a lot of times they would ask if there was breast cancer in my family. “No,” was my answer and that seemed to satisfy some people, but 50% of women who get breast cancer don’t have it in their families.

Those without breast cancer in their families still need to be aware. I’m a cautionary tale, I guess.

#16 dana on 08.30.08 at 7:57 pm

I’m now 59 and I’ve had mammograms every six months since I was 29 and that was before the safer mammograms. They used to tape balloons to the chest xray machine and push me into them for the”mammograms!” My concern was the radiation! Now, over 12 surgical biopsies later, and I realize how much time was spent on the “what if” of life.

#17 bcjenster on 09.01.08 at 10:35 pm

I found you from Mothers with Cancer. I took that assessment as if it were March of 2005. Interestingly I had a lower chance of getting breast cancer than the average woman. I was diagnosed in April. And that scares me for other women. I was healthy, ate well, exercised, had no family history – basically I couldn’t check off any of the risk factors. What a false sense of security.

I had a mastectomy and then a year and a half later had a prophylatic mastectomy with reconstruction. Frankly, I miss my real boobs. Not that they were great – they weren’t. But I liked them better than my new girls. HOWEVER, I don’t miss them so much that I regret having the lopped off.

And I just have to say – my mastectomy looked way better than the model on the magazine cover. My surgeon was always complimenting me on my “nice flaps”. That’s not something you hear every day! (It just meant there was no puckering.)

#18 Gunfighter on 09.05.08 at 6:55 am

My stepsister is currenty undergoing the reconstruction process after her double mastectomy.

#19 Jane on 03.03.10 at 4:18 pm

I’m 32 and I’m just finishing the process of breast reconstruction after a bilateral mastectomy after having a horribly aggressive breast cancer. It’s a long journey, and a complicated process not a single operation. I got diagnosed in July 08 around the same time Christina went public.

I shouldn’t have gotten cancer, I don’t have a family history, I don’t smoke or drink, I exercise and I’m a healthy weight. I breast fed my baby. Sometimes bad things happen to people who do all the right things. Don’t let a risk assessment test lull you into a false sense of security, really get to know your body and if you feel there are any changes get them checked out and be assertive with your doctor. Don’t let them brush you aside because you fall into a low risk category and you’re ‘too young’ to have cancer.

#20 Jessica Miller on 10.07.12 at 7:26 am

Hemp OIL CURES CANCER. please do the research

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