Breast Cancer Support
My Mom passed away from a six year battle with breast cancer in 2011. She was the strongest person I know and always had a smile on her face; even when faced with this horrible disease. Here is why I am so passionate about supporting earlier detection of breast cancer.
" My Grandmother was always this mysterious and glamorous 1950s lady to me. I never had the opportunity to meet her, but I am bonded to her through my name sake. My middle name "Constance" is after her. Much like my own daughter will be bonded to my Mom the same way. Her middle name is "Cynthia" after my Mom.
I always wondered why my Mom did not talk about my Grandmother often, if she did at all. Even when I asked her questions as I got older, you could feel she was a little closed off. Nothing happened, they were extremely close. It wasn't until I was 30 after my Mom's passing that I realized why she didn't speak of her. It's not that she didn't want to. The hard truth is that the hurt from their loss is so great that sometimes you just can't or the floodgates will open.
As I look back and reflect on my Mom's journey with Breast Cancer that ultimately led to me assessing my own risk of Breast Cancer. There are two distinct calls I remember vividly getting from my Mom as I sat in my New York City apartment. The first happened almost ten years ago, when my Mom called to tell me they had found something abnormal in her annual mammogram. My Mom was never overly vocal about mammograms, but she was vigilant with them each year. I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It was something I had feared my entire life because I knew my Mom didn't have her Mom for very long. My Mom had only finished high school when her Mom died. Was this really happening?
From there they found the cancer in her breast and some had spread to her lymph nodes. We all went into warrior mode and she fought the disease with every ounce of strength and courage. My Mom persevered six years through multiple surgeries, chemo and a brain tumor to keep this horrible disease at bay; all while raising her family and working with a smile on her face. Her goal when she was diagnosed was always to make it to my wedding. I wasn't even engaged at the time of her diagnosis, but she did it. She passed a month after my wedding. We didn't know it would be her last family event at the time, but she would have crawled there if she had to. Fortunately, she danced the night away. We all did. It was the best day of my life. Unfortunately the high was short lived. My new husband and I landed from our honeymoon to the news that the cancer had spread everywhere. My Mom never even saw the pictures from our wedding, it all went downhill so fast. We had that night though and it was amazing.
BRCA2 Genetic Testing
The second call I remember during my Mom's courageous fight was the call when she had to tell me that she was in fact a carrier of the BRCA2 gene. Another punch! It meant that I had a 50% chance of also being a carrier. My Mom was devastated. It was almost like she was being diagnosed all over again. At the time I didn't grasp the magnitude of that news. I knew I could be dealt a bad hand, but I didn't understand how my Mom felt. Now that I have two kids, I completely understand why my Mom was so upset. She didn't verbalize it, but I know she felt like she had failed me by potentially passing on this gene. You try to protect your children as much as you can, but some things just happen. Maybe that's why it took her two years to even get the courage to get the test. And perhaps that's why it took me two years after her passing to get tested too. It's terrifying. Who wants to find out if they have this crazy gene that likely leads to this disease.
I'm glad my Mom wasn't here to hear the news that I too was in fact a BRCA2 carrier. She would be crushed. I had a 50% chance of being a carrier and unfortunately I was dealt a bad gene. Leading up to the test you have to go to genetic counseling to make sure you are a viable candidate. I had a large family history of Cancer that made me eligible for the test. My Grandmother and multiple relatives on my Mom's side had passed very young from Cancer. The counselor I met with through Memorial Sloane Kettering was fantastic. She took her time and walked me through every step. I was really nervous before the test. I had an 18 month old at home and was quickly learning how fiercely you love your children.
I took the test and they called to say I had to come in to hear the results. Never good when they say that. I ended up putting off making the appointment to hear the results for a few more weeks. I think subconsciously I didn't want to hear these results. Then they sent me a letter via FedEx to make sure I read it that said I must come in to hear my results. Ut oh I thought, that's really not good. Now these gene people are hunting me down!
So I made the appointment. I went in and the counselor sat me down and said it wasn't the result they hoped for and I was positive for the BRCA2 gene. I was 32 so the statistics are much better than if I was 40. I had time to have babies before my risk is so great that I need to take immediate action.
After hearing the news I was a little in shock. Deep down I had known though. Sometimes you just get that sixth sense feeling about these things. The best thing the counselor said to me that morning in this tiny office in midtown Manhattan was "ok we know, now let us keep you safe." I swear it was like my Mom was giving me a hug with those words. She was right. In that moment I was no longer afraid because knowledge is power. I had the power to do something about this horrible disease. I get the opportunity that my Mom didn't have. I would be screened more aggressively than my Mom. The best gift my Mom could have given me is getting that test.
Living with BRCA2
I don't know what the future holds, but my Mom may very well have saved my life. I have been in the high risk monitoring program at Memorial Sloane Kettering for the past few years and so far so good. I just had my second baby. I have always said I would make a decision on whether I want to have preventative surgery after this baby.
It's a deeply personal decision for everyone, but for me it's easy. If I can do anything to prevent my family from experiencing the pain that myself and everyone close to my Mom went through during and after her fight, I will do the surgery in a second.
As I said earlier the pain is unbearable, but I believe she's always with me. I see her everyday through my children that she would have loved to meet. She would have been the best Grandmother. Luckily a lot of people have stepped into our lives to help fill that role.
If my story leaves you with any message, mine would be to asses your risk and get tested. Yes, it's very scary, but I truly believe knowledge is power. That knowledge will, hopefully, allow me to break the cycle and allow me to see my grandkids grow up. Something that my Mom and her Mom were not able to do.
How can YOu help me support earlier detection of breast cancer?
Each year as we near closer to October and "pink" starts popping up everywhere I'm reminded of the toll this disease has taken on many lives. For me, I personally, put efforts into funding earlier detection.
I feel strongly about detecting breast cancer earlier. I was naive when my Mom started fighting her battle. I thought she would be ok and she was for a bit, but this disease is ugly and it metastasizes when you are least expecting it. The earlier you detect it the better. At least in my opinion. I am not a doctor.
Through my college roommate I met her sister in law who works for a wonderful organization "Earlier.org - Friends for An Earlier Breast Cancer Test" that is the nation’s only breast cancer charity focused exclusively on supporting research for new discoveries of an innovative biological test to detect breast cancer earlier.
2016 Breast Cancer Support Limited Edition Bracelet
It has been five years so this year's piece is turning the month of pink upside down. I'm MIXING things up!
Above all my Mom loved family and friends. So this year I celebrate all of those
fun loving and crazy combinations!
It's your choice who you want to celebrate - friends, family or even pets. When you purchase, just let me know the birth months that you would like to include. Choose as many as you like to use!
Have fun and smile!
Link to Shop
A portion of the proceeds from this year's limited edition Breast Cancer bracelet will be donated to earlier.org.
Their single mission is to discover an innovative biological test to detect breast cancer earlier. Did you know that most breast cancer is in the body five to eight years before it can be detected? Earlier detection may prevent invasive surgery, minimize treatment and dramatically increase survival chances (source).
Use #everisttamix to share your combinations in action