Inspired by this post by young survivor Marika Holmgren over at the HuffPo, In Honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, Top Ten Things Young Survivors (Probably) Don't Want to Hear, I put together this list. Enjoy.
Top Ten Things Young Previvors (Probably) Don't Want to Hear
10) But you're so young!
Well, I'm staring down the big 3-1 next week, so I don't really think I'm all that young any more (but not yet middle-aged... didn't Britney Spears write a song about that?), but all that is beside the point. Young women do get breast cancer, and young women with the breast cancer gene, especially, get breast cancer. In fact, recent studies suggest that women with BRCA mutations are getting sick an average of six years earlier than the previous generation. So we're never to young to get breast cancer.
9) Well, if you get breast cancer, at least it's curable.
This impression that breast cancer is somehow the "good cancer" to get befuddles me. Have we really sanitized the disease so much with all the pink ribbons and smiling bald ladies in ads that breast cancer has just become a woman's right of passage? Breast cancer changes lives. And breast cancer ends lives. I'm not sure why we've forgotten (willfully ignored?) this inconvenient truth. And unless I missed the headlines, there still is no cure for cancer. What's more, women with BRCA mutations who have had breast cancer have a 40% chance of recurrence and an elevated risk of developing second primary cancers. In other words, breast cancer isn't like chicken pox, folks. You don't get it once and are immune to it forever.
8) You're removing healthy body parts that may never develop cancer. That's crazy.
To you, maybe. But to me, it's the opposite of crazy. It's totally sane and rational. I have a nearly 90% chance of getting a disease I know I can prevent if I have this surgery. What's crazier, getting it when you didn't have to or not getting it because you had surgery? I'm going to go with what's behind door number two, Monty.
7) So wait. If I was told I had the brain cancer gene, I'd have to remove my brain?
Are you sure you haven't already? No. You would not remove your brain. Because you need it to live. I am removing my breasts because I can live (both figuratively and literally) without them. No, I won't be able to breastfeed, which is evolutionarily their only function. But my future children will survive and thrive on formula. Lots of people weren't breastfed. And they turned out fine. My kids will be, too.
6) That's not what I would do.
You are free to think that, but I don't want to hear it. Truthfully, you-imaginary-person-who-doesn't-have-the-BRCA-mutation, I don't really care what you would do. Because you don't know what it feels like to be me. So zip it.
5) What if you have the surgery and then die of something else?
Well, that's the point right? Not to die of breast cancer? I don't know how long I've got, but I'd like to spend my time here without breast cancer.
4) Look on the bright side, you're getting a free boob job!
Reconstruction does not equal a boob job, folks. Enough said.
3) I always hated my boobs. You're lucky to be getting rid of them.
I know lots of women out there have vexed relationships with their bodies, and there are parts of mine (armpit fat area, I'm looking at you) that I hate. But my boobs are not one of them. I really like my boobs. They were totally unexpected additions to my life. I lived until age 21 without ever needing to actually wear a bra. And then suddenly, I needed one. A lot. And part of me is still that desperately flat-chested, square torso-ed boy-shaped girl. So when I see these womanly mounds on my body, I do a silent little touch-down celebration. Because I wanted them for so long and they finally arrived and they are beautiful. So, no, I'm not lucky to be getting rid of them. I'm lucky for the time I had with them.
2) You should do [insert healthy lifestyle choice]. I hear that helps prevent breast cancer.
Well, if we knew how to prevent it, no one would get it, right? I hate to be so pessimistic, but, especially in women with BRCA mutations, all of this healthy-lifestyle-doing-yoga-drinking-green-tea-taking-vitamins seems like titling at windmills to me. But, I'll play along. So, to prevent cancer I need to be healthy. But I already am. Vegetarian? Check. Runner? Check. Yogi? Check. Non-smoker? Check. I'm doing all I can here, folks. I'm staring down a 9 in 10 chance of getting breast cancer. I wonder really what difference it makes if I forgo that Diet Coke or glass of white wine.
1) Don't do anything drastic yet. There will be a cure soon.
I sincerely hope you are right. And I sincerely hope that in five, ten, twenty years, prophylactic mastectomies for high-risk women will seem as draconian as blood letting. But I'm not going to stand around idly and wait for miraculous medical advances. I'm doing the best with the technology and understanding we currently have.
Top Ten Things Young Previvors (Probably) Want to Hear
10) Is there anything I can do? Do you need a ride anywhere? Wanna grab a drink?
9) I'll be there for you.
8) Good for you for doing what's right for you.
7) I don't want you to get breast cancer, either.
6) I don't know what it must feel like to be going through what you are going through, but I know it sucks.
5) Talk to me. I'm here to listen.
4) When you are recovering from surgery, I'll come over and watch DVDs with you, wash your hair, and bring you vegan junk food.
3) You are brave.
2) You are strong.
1) You will still be beautiful.