Since I can remember, I spent a good majority of my time in hospital waiting rooms and cafeterias. My Grandmother (Mami) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer for the first time in 1996, at the age of 59. When she was first diagnosed, testing for hereditary cancer was discussed but the doctors urged against it, asking my family what they would do differently if they knew they were positive for this gene. Deciding against it my four aunts would go to the doctor every year for routine check-ups, keeping in mind their extensive family history.
For the following 15 years we spent countless days in hospitals, practically a second home. Unfortunately in the spring of 2011, 15 years of fighting and two reoccurrences later, my grandmother passed away in her sleep.
On April 29, 2014, I was lying in bed after a long day of classes, when my mom walked into the house, much earlier than usual. It caught me off guard, but I didn’t think much of it. Then she walked up to my door and said, “instead of getting a tattoo with teal (ovarian cancer) and gray (brain cancer), we’ll get a teal, gray, and pink (breast cancer) tattoo!” That was my mom’s subtle way of breaking the news — she didn’t know how else to tell her only daughter that she had breast cancer.
Upon multiple doctor visits, the oncologist told her she most likely was BRCA+ and tested her on the spot — she was BRCA1 positive. At 42 she was diagnosed with breast cancer, underwent multiple surgeries, and went through chemotherapy and radiation. With the love and support from her entire family, we were all relieved when she received her clean bill of health.
Following her completion of chemotherapy, I decided to get tested. Many of her doctors urged me to wait because I was so young. Finally a doctor agreed, and told me that making the decision to get tested and fight back against this gene was very responsible and mature of me. I got tested following my 20th birthday, and found out I was BRCA1+ in November of 2014.
At this age, it is difficult to know where to start simply because doctors say we’re too young for MRI’s or mammograms. But making the first step to go into a gynecologist or breast surgeon’s office gives you a great baseline and will ultimately open your eyes to all of your options. People may tell you “no!” because of your age, but push back and make sure that you feel comfortable with your decisions and options, because KNOWLEDGE IS POWER.