This week as Ms Jolie wrote in The New York Times about having her ovaries removed my phone began to ring once more! I am so thankful to Ms Jolie for speaking out about BRCA 1. She has the world's stage and I think she is using it brilliantly. For the record, Ms Jolie didn't need to tell a soul what she was doing. After all it's impossible to look at somebody and know they've had their ovaries removed. So by speaking out she has raised this issue and helped to educate. Bravo!
So what is BRCA 1? It's a gene that is passed down from a parent to a child. When we are created we gain a pair of genes - one from our mother and one from our father. If a parents carries the faulty BRCA 1 gene the child has a 50% chance of inheriting it. In my case and in Angelina Jolie's we both inherited this faulty gene. It means we had a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer than a person who doesn't carry the gene.
The only solution for this is either monitoring or surgery.
Monitoring includes mammograms and MRI of the breasts and a blood test to look for raised levels of a substance called CA125 along with internal ultrasounds for the ovaries. But the down side with this option is that the patient is really sitting and waiting to see if cancer will strike.
The second option which both Ms Jolie and I went for is surgery to remove the breast tissue and ovaries with the fallopian tubes. This essentially removes the parts of the body that are most at risk. The potential to develop cancer is then at 5% after surgery.
Obviously opting for surgery is a personal choice. It very much depends on the woman's age and her circumstances. In my case, I was thirty-two, I had two children and I didn't want any more. The decision was easy. I've never regretted it, in fact I know it saved my life.
Since my surgery I've been diagnosed with and beaten cancer nine times. So I know that I did the right thing.
If you or someone you know has just discovered this gene is present I would urge you do one thing. Think of this in a positive light. No, I haven't lost my marbles. I'm being serious. Don't sit and sob thinking this is the worst possible news. Think that this is knowledge. You have been forewarned and you have the opportunity to do something pro-active that could save your life.
I have never viewed my surgeries as a negative thing. Instead of looking at it as removing body parts, I saw it as removing the danger. I found it a freeing relief to wake up post surgery knowing I had made my body safe. I knew I had gained the greatest prize of all - life.
Perhaps I am very black and white in my thoughts and approach to life, but after the past ten years of chemotherapy, radiation and surgery I've had many dawning realisations. I know how precious life is. I know I am lucky to be alive and believe me I am damn grateful. So I fail to see how my surgeries were a bad thing. Without them I wouldn't be here.
Obviously no BRCA 1 gene positive woman should have this surgery unless she is certain it is right for her. But all I can say is that my breast reconstruction is fabulous. My ovaries had done their job and while I was thrown into premature menopause that's really not a big deal. In the greater scheme of things menopause is a drop in the ocean in comparison to death. Menopause is in the post for all women, mine was simply delivered a little earlier than expected.
I know that Ms Jolie's article has raised questions and started conversations about BRCA 1. That's a good thing. It's also a good reminder for us ordinary folks that although she is an A list Hollywood actress, she is also a person just like you and I. She is a mother who wants to be there to see her children grow up. She is a wife who wants to be with her husband. She is a decent and honest woman and I think she is a superb role model. I wish her well and hope that she remains cancer free.
Love and light to you all