37 Years. Five Life-changing Moments
On November 7, 2019, one day after my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, my surgeon visited me in the recovery center. She asked me how I was feeling. I was honest and said I was overwhelmed. She responded with a comment that really struck a chord. She said: Well, of course you are! Think about it, this is probably the single most important decision you’ve ever made in your life.
She was right.
I started thinking about all the other decisions and life changing moments I’ve experience in my 37 years. There weren’t many. But I realized they all had one thing in common: BRCA.
Life Changing Moment #1: The day I received my genetic test results indicating I was BRCA-2 positive. At the age of 23, when I was eager and ready to launch myself into adulthood, I was thrown into this world of research and statistics and what at the time felt like impending doom.
Moment #2: The day I decided to stop living in denial and see a BRCA specialist. It took seven full years and a lot of pressure from my parents to finally face the realities of my BRCA-2 status. I saw a specialist and began “aggressive surveillance.” Yearly MRIs, mammograms, ultrasounds, blood tests and check-ups. If I had an increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers, we were going to catch it early.
Moment #3: The day I learned about Sharsheret. What I didn’t mention in moment #2, was that even though I was physically going through the motions of surveillance, I never took the time to recognize – or knew the significance – of the mental strain and emotional rollercoaster that went with it. Sharsheret was the support group I didn’t know I needed and then forever changed my life. For four years, Sharsheret helped me understand my personal barriers, deal with my emotions, and help me, step-by-step, own my knowledge and deal with the realities of my future. I participated in webinars to hear from experts, attended panels to learn from other women who faced what I was facing, talked with Sharsheret staff when I needed extra personal attention, and was linked to a peer supporter so I knew there’s always someone to talk to who understood my situation. Sharsheret’s services and support have changed my life and helped me find my way to Moment #4.
Moment #4: The day I had my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. This was the most literal of life changers. At every appointment with my BRCA specialist, I’d be reminded that surveillance was good, but the best option to reduce my risks of these cancers was to completely remove my breasts and ovaries. Literally cut out the problem. It took me almost 15 years to get there, but I finally decided to live by choice, not by chance, and start with the mastectomy. I’ll never forget the first words I heard from my surgeon after waking up from my operation: Congratulations, you’ve just saved your own life.
Life Changing Moment #5: The day I decided to own it, embrace it and be proud of it. I kept my BRCA status a secret from even my closest friends and family for over a decade. But once I decided to have my surgery, I realized I needed to share my story and my struggle, and the reasons for taking such drastic measures. Through my sharing, I’ve discovered a new sense of pride and ownership that I’d never felt before. I felt more connected to my family lineage that shared this genetic mutation and who lost their battles with cancer. I embraced the journey and the many emotions it took to get me here – and those I’m still feeling – and helping show others who may be in my same position that it’s not always easy. It may take some time. It may take some nagging from parents. But, in the end, it may become something you’re most proud of and something that you can share with others and be their life changing moment, and inspire them to claim their futures.