Photo by Matt Goldenberg

I’m a Registered Nurse, a pop culture junkie, karaoke lover, Zumba fiend, married to a brilliant, handsome guy. And I had a double mastectomy in August, 2014 – not because I had cancer, but because I chose to do so.

I was very close to my grandmother, a vibrant woman with a larger than life Zsa Zsa Gabor type personality. A Holocaust survivor who could get herself out of any situation, she finally faced something she could not escape – the Ovarian Cancer that claimed her life. When I went to an OBGYN appointment in San Francisco in 2007, my doctor noted the family history of cancer and recommended the BRCA test. The BRCA gene normally helps you fight cancer, but if you are BRCA positive, the gene is “broken.” This increases breast cancer risk by up to 87% and ovarian cancer risk up to 54% higher than the average person. When my test results came back, I found out that I carried the BRCA2 gene. With this news tucked away in a dark corner of my mind, I continued to live my life pretty much the same way I always had, with the exception of yearly screening tests for breast and ovarian cancer. (Having your breasts smashed during a mammogram is something every young woman in her 20s wants to do, right?) As my husband and I moved around the country from San Francisco to DC to LA, each new doctor would bring up the concept of prophylactic mastectomy – removing the breasts to prevent cancer. I refused to listen – until 2014.

Angelina Jolie made her big BRCA announcement in 2013. Suddenly the mysterious gene was front-page news. This coincided with my turning 30 and thoughts of starting a family by age 35 entered the picture. I decided to see another geneticist about the BRCA gene.

The doctor again brought up prophylactic mastectomy. I finally listened and heard. One new and alarming bit of information I learned was that screening is difficult during pregnancy. That’s why you often hear of young mothers being diagnosed with breast cancer. So, I made a decision to take control of my fate. After understanding the pathophysiology of the gene (thank you nursing school), taking in my risk, and outweighing my benefits vs. risks of the procedure, I decided that to undergo a double mastectomy in August 2014, while on the break between summer and fall school quarters. I had my reconstructive surgery in December 2014. Part of the timing of the surgeries was because I was in nursing school and I’d have breaks between quarters. I knew this would be a lot easier to schedule than when I had a job. Looking back, it’s crazy that I was able to have these major surgeries and not miss any school or clinical rotations, even with some post-surgical complications. But, I did it! I graduated on time and reduced my breast cancer risk by a ton.

I also decided to share my journey publicly. (I could hardly wait to live-tweet shopping for implant sizes!) I’ll share the good, bad, and ugly.  I’m hoping that sharing my story will not only be therapeutic for me, but will also help others learn about the BRCA gene and being proactive about health. Thanks for sharing my journey with me!

Funky Genes in the News

10/15/2014: Funky Genes: Alumna Chronicles Decision to Get Double Mastectomy – USF Magazine

11/14/2014: UCLA student’s blog chronicles journey before, after double mastectomy – Daily Bruin

05/04/2015: Nursing student opts for proactive approach to genetic mutation – Nurse.com