By: Angela S
I was 39 turning 40 when I began having random nipple discharge. I had four children at the time ages 10, 8, 5 and 1. Multiple doctors told me it was probably just a clogged milk duct. But I never could breast feed so that didn’t make sense to me. I tried to nurse my first baby for 3 months but never produced enough and she was diagnosed with severe re flux requiring special formula and medicine. So I didn’t even try with the others. Looking back, I sometimes felt strange on the left side but never thought too much about it. After having my second mammogram, the doctor told me I needed a biopsy because I had suspicious calcifications. Me nor the doctors ever felt a lump. So I was pretty confident that they were benign. I had to wait 7 weeks for a biopsy because I chose a top hospital in the city. I’ll never forget the day the nurse called me Tuesday, February 7, 2017. I am the leader of my parish mother’s group and we were having our meeting. The nurse was cold and unfeeling…. I didn’t expect to get results over the phone. I was completely shocked and devastated. I remember actually sinking to the floor and sobbing while someone grabbed my little one year old guy from me. The told me I had invasive lobular carcinoma. I needed an MRI and lots of appointments with breast surgeons, oncologists, plastic surgeons etc. After a terrible appointment at this hospital, I decided to go for a second opinion and I haven’t looked back since. I was completely happy with my switch to Fox Chase Cancer Center. The doctors and nurses are all top notch and work as a team. They treated me like a human, not a number. I felt like it was the perfect place for me! I knew right away that I wanted a double mastectomy. I have a small immediate family and didn’t have any breast cancer in it! But I never was happy with my small breasts and they didn’t even work to nourish my children. So that was that. The doc said that I could get genetic testing a little later then, I didn’t need to use that as a tool to decide about my type of surgery. Hmmm. I did have some cancer on my dad’s side. His mom died from lung cancer in her early 70s (but she was a heavy smoker ) and my dad’s dad died from colorectal cancer. But I still didn’t think twice. My dad and his side of the family never went to doctors. They went when it was too late and the cancer had spread. I wasn’t like them! I had been going to various doctors since my 20s. That’s how they found stage four endometriosis when I couldn’t get pregnant for four years! After a bunch of surgeries, I was blessed to naturally conceive four children! But now this!!So I talked to plastics and got the top doctor who did microsurgery. I decided on DIEP flap reconstruction. It sounded more natural to me, using my belly fat from a tummy tuck to create new breasts. I was scared but thankful I had an amazing team of docs. On March 24, 2017, I had a TWELVE hour surgery: double mastectomy with immediate DIEP flap reconstruction. Phew. I did it! It was rough and a long recovery but actually not nearly as hard as I anticipated!! I was blessed with wonderful family and church friends who had SIXTY meals delivered to my house during recovery! I was frightened of the future though…. Was chemo in my sights?! I actually was more afraid of chemo than my huge surgeries! My cancer was 100% ER +, 25% PR+ and HER2. Because of this, Fox Chase was able to send out my tumor for an oncotype test to determine if I would benefit from chemo. My oncologist met with me as soon as it came back. The score was 19. One point over “low recurrence”. My heart sunk! But the doctor looked at me and said, “If you were my sister, I would tell you DO NOT do chemo.” I decided to trust my doctor and my gut. So then it was time to get genetic testing since I was only 40 at time of diagnosis. I had my meeting with a genetic counselor to discuss my family tree and I was surprised to remember so many distant cousins dying from cancers at a young age! The day came for the results and I had the doctor who headed the genetics department tell me the news- I actually carried a mutation! I was positive for BRCA2! I really broke down and cried right there in the office ! Not only for me, but for my four little children who each have a 50% chance of being BRCA2 +. I pray with all my heart that they will never have to go through anything like I did!!! So, once I found out my high risk for ovarian cancer, my doctors and I agreed on a hysterectomy and Oophorectomy. Since my BC was 100% estrogen positive AND I was diagnosed BRCA2 +, it made sense to have this surgery. I was worried about the instant surgical menopause. But I had always had bad endometriosis, ovarian cysts, uterine polyps! So I thought to myself that docs can just keep taking unnecessary organs! I’ll survive! So three months later on June 24, 2017, I had surgery to remove my ovaries, Fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix. The surgeon wasn’t sure if she could do it laparoscopically through my vagina since I had some ovarian cysts…. that would mean another huge incision like the hip to hip one I already had from my DIEP tummy tuck!!! However, I woke up and discovered that my brilliant doc was able to do the surgery laparoscopically!!! It was a success! I felt very depressed and like I had brain fog for two weeks but then the fog lifted and I felt like my happy self again!!Being BRCA2 + meant an increased risk for cancers of the breast, ovary, pancreas, prostate as well as melanoma. But hey, can’t get prostate LOL! And now, I cannot get ovarian or cervical or Fallopian tube or uterine cancer!!!! The doctor said I had a super small chance of primary peritoneal cancer. I feel I did the most radical surgeries to prevent new cancers and to keep my breast cancer from returning! Unfortunately my father was not so lucky. My mom and only sibling tested negative for BRCA2 which meant that my dad was the carrier. He refused to believe his genetic outcome and got sick with prostate cancer. Despite many people telling us that prostate cancer has a great survival rate, due to our mutation, my dad’s cancer had a high Gleason score and was very aggressive. He died exactly one year after diagnosis with bone metastasis. I truly believe things could have been different for my dad had he gone to doctors and if he had the knowledge of his mutation! It’s a blessing in disguise! Knowledge is power! What a journey!!! I celebrated 4 years Cancer- free on March 24, 2021. I am truly blessed. I take tamoxifen and see one of my cancer doctors every six months. I still see my gynecological surgical oncologist once a year. I see my medical oncologist and breast surgeon too. But my appointments line up so that I have a breast exam every six months. In the words of a song from Bye Bye Birdie, “I’ve Got a Lot of Livin’ to Do!” I truly enjoy being a patient to patient network volunteer at Fox Chase. I am matched with women who have a similar diagnosis, surgeries etc. I am also a part of many Facebook groups and attend numerous online workshops about breast cancer as well as BRCA. I love being the leader of the Mother’s Group and the Saint Gianna Shrine Director at my parish church ! But most of all, I love being a wife and a mom to my beautiful kids who are now ages 16, 13, 10 and 6. Sometimes life throws you curve balls. But I feel my suffering was for a reason! I can share my knowledge and experiences with others diagnosed with breast cancer and BRCA2. I can also help my kids get the best care as they eventually will have genetic testing. Everything happens for a reason! My mantra is: Let your faith be bigger than your fear!