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WINNING THE BATTLE AGAINST BRCA1
by Marilyn Robinson
Who said, "I am glad I had cancer, it made me a better person?" Well, that is true; however, how much better and wiser can I be? I have just been diagnosed with breast cancer for a third time! The front-line battle to escape the enemy tells the story:
In 1993 at the age of 47, I had a routine mammogram, and I was diagnosed with an estrogen-negative ductal cell carcinoma. I had many heart-wrenching issues to face. I was confronted with my own mortality. I underwent ten months of FAC chemotherapy after a mastectomy and tram flap reconstruction. (Dr. Mark Shusterman, my plastic surgeon from Houston, Texas is a skilled artist and wonderful physician) You would think that would be enough for one person to endure..however, there is more to my story.
I was diagnosed 1 year after my husband was diagnosed with renal cell cancer. We were both in treatment at the same time. Unfortunately, my husband was not a survivor, and passed away one month after my last chemotherapy treatment. Although I suffered both emotional and physical pain during that time, the wonderful memories of having a loving partner in battle gave me great strength. We were both angry, but our mutual anger turned to peace. We spent more and more time at the beach looking at sunrises and sunsets, listening to the waves crashing on the shore, hearing the sound of seagulls, focusing on the preciousness of life's moments.
I survived 8 years cancer-free, enjoying my creative talents, helping cancer patients look fashionable and feel better about themselves. Then, you guessed it..I went in for a routine mammogram and was diagnosed with insitu ductal cell carcinoma to the healthy breast. The same fears surfaced as when I was first diagnosed ...a cancer-free existence with a bright future now overshadowed by a dark cloud from the past. My decision was to have a lumpectomy with six weeks of radiation..I thought that would end my battles. I was widowed and scarred but remained hopeful that one day there would be a cure.
In 2008, I found out about the BRCA genetic test, and consulted with a counselor to explore my family history and risk for other cancers. I could not trace anyone on my mother's side or father's side who had breast cancer. My test results came back positive for BRCA1, hereditary cancer..which put me at high risk for breast cancer, ovarian cancer and melanoma. I immediately took action and had my ovaries removed, and also saw a dermatologist for a baseline skin check. Because I already had a lumpectomy and radiation, I decided to ignore the possibility of having another bout with breast cancer, and instead opted to have close medical management of the radiated breast.
After rebuilding my life and living by the adage that time heals all wounds, once again, I went in for my yearly mammogram, which for those with a history of cancer become a living hell. January 2010, a one-centemeter cancer lump was found on the radiated breast. The carcinoma is a grade three, stage one, triple-negative ductal cell. Not a good report to say the least. On March 5th, I underwent a second mastectomy, and next week I face my first of four chemotherapy treatments of Taxotere/Cytoxen. So it seems I'm back on the frontline fighting the war against breast cancer. At least I learned from my past experiences, that early detection is crucial.
If I had known I was a BRCA1 carrier in 1993, I would have had a double mastectomy and ovaries removed and life would have been enjoyed with less pain. I thought life was pretty darn good before I was diagnosed, and have faith that it will be good again. There are new programs available, and genetic testing that were not available in 1993. I urge those reading my story to get tested and learn about prevention. I have "been there, and done that." Now I am winning the battle--and maybe I am cured! I will let you know next year..after my routine physical. And on the positive side, I am through with yearly mammograms!