by Alexandria Groves
My journey “with cancer” began when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 32. I’m the oldest of three daughters: I was seven at the time, Kiersten was five, and Victoria was one. Why did my “journey with cancer” begin back then? Because since then, breast cancer and the BRCA2 mutation, which we found out my mom had a little bit later, have become parts of my life. And because of the huge impact those years had on me, I can also say that breast cancer and the BRCA2 mutation have become part of my identity.
I was always curious about what was going on with my mom. I wanted to know as much as possible for her sake and for my own. I would do research on the Internet and ask her questions when I was younger; as I grew up, I continued to do that and also wrote papers and did research projects on those two always-present entities in the family. To be truthful, I was never afraid of what I was going to find. My goal was always to gain knowledge so that I would be prepared when it would happen to me.
Yes, I just said when it would happen to me. When I was little, I believed that there was a strong possibility that I would get breast cancer just like my mom. So I did all that I could to be prepared, and even questioned when I would start being screened and become eligible for genetic testing. As far as screening went, my mom told me that it would start when I was 25, but that genetic testing was up to me and my ability to handle the results.
After writing a paper that featured the mutation and having a discussion with my mom about it, I was 20 years old when I got tested—in July 2015 I found out that I was positive for a BRCA2 mutation. I never thought I would cry because of all my research and preparation, but I was wrong. I cried and cried and cried, blocking out everything the geneticist and her assistant were saying to me. I guess hearing the news in real life is worse than creating the scenario in your head.
So what did I do after that? Well, it did take me a long time to get over the shock and settle with the fact that I was now a previvor. I started to see my oncologist, Dr. Wickerham, and get breast MRIs every six months. And I have learned that my birth control is chemoprevention for ovarian cancer.
But beside moving forward medically with my previvorship, I have also moved forward socially I guess you might say. I am now more comfortable talking about the subject. I started a blog that allows me to get my feelings out and shows others my experiences as a previvor. And this fall, I interned for FORCE, learning more about previvorship than I would have ever imagined.
Some people have asked if I regret getting tested at such a young age. My answer is always, and always will be, no. I will never regret my decision. I needed to know, and if I would have waited, I would have probably gone crazy. Also, I have sisters and I want to be as much of a role model for them as I possibly can. I want to show them that everything will be okay for us and that they don’t have to be scared. For those reasons, finding out I was a previvor was one of the best things that happened to me. I now have the option of doing something about my mutated gene and being an advocate for myself and my sisters.
Alexandria Groves studies Professional Writing at Juniata College. She has been an intern at FORCE this fall. We thank her for her amazing work this semester.Tags: brca, BRCA 2, BRCA2, breast cancer prevention, Genetic counseling, HBOC, hereditary cancer, previvor, screening and prevention