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There was only one woman, besides my mom, still alive on the paternal side of her family. Most of the other female family members passed away from breast or ovarian cancer when they were young.
It was about 20 years ago when my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer. My mom is a strong woman and I hoped that I could have a fraction of her strength.
Both the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations are in my family. My maternal grandfather was a carrier of both. My mother is a carrier of the BRCA2 genetic mutation and my uncle carries the BRCA1 genetic mutation. I did my research and I knew that I had a 50% chance of inheriting the BRCA2 genetic mutation. I also knew the reality that if I was a carrier of the mutation that I, too, would likely develop breast cancer at some point in my adult life and perhaps develop ovarian cancer, too. That was quite a tough reality for a 15 year old.
I needed to live and not worry about developing cancer. I finished high school, went to college and lived my life the best I could with this fear always in the back of my mind. At the age of 21, I decided I needed to know if I carried the BRCA genetic mutation. I was told by my physician that at that time, I was the youngest person to be tested for the mutation. My worst fear became a reality when I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 genetic mutation. I leaned on the strength of my mother. I knew I could face this fear.
Six months later, I made the most difficult decision in my life. I did not want to be diagnosed with breast cancer, and the only way I felt comfortable to manage my risk and ease my mind was to have a prophylactic double mastectomy at Mt. Sinai Hospital. I liked my body the way it was, but I wanted to do all I could to live a long, healthy life. After my body healed from the surgery, I had breast reconstruction.
It was shortly after recovering from the reconstruction that the reality of my decisions began to sink in. I worried I would not find someone to fall in love with me; someone who would love me and my new body. I had no idea when or how to tell a man, in a new relationship, all that I had been through. I questioned whether I would ever have a child, and if my future husband and I would be able to come to terms with the possibility of passing on the genetic mutation.
Fast forward to my 27th birthday, and the man of my dreams proposed to me. All of my fears melted away as I realized that he loved me for who I am. We were married within the year and are still in love after 10 years. During this time, I faced another of my fears, again relying on the strength from my mother. Could my husband and I start a family?
It was the first week of November 2014. The day after my birthday, to be exact. I will never forget it. The speaker on the ultrasound machine was turned up and I heard the thump, thump, thump in rapid succession. It was my child's heartbeat. My world changed.
On June 17, 2015, the second love of my life, the light of my life, my daughter, Abigail Rose, came to me. Her cheek touching mine, her immediate smile and her gaze into my eyes are all moments that will stay with me forever.
I have shared this long story with you so you will understand why FORCE is so important. My husband is not a carrier of the BRCA genetic mutation. However, there is a 50% chance that my daughter will carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation. It is because of the critical work that FORCE does that I have hope that a cure will be found, so that if Abigail does carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation, she will have better options than I had to manage her risk.
My mother is still the strongest woman I know. One year after her breast cancer diagnosis, she gathered her friends and family and created Keepers of the Dream. For 19 years we have walked, rain or shine, warm or cold, to raise money for research to find a cure for breast cancer. Since 2014, we have raised over $10,000 for FORCE and we aren't finished yet. Keepers of the Dream walks for my daughter, for all those who currently are high risk and for those in our future who will be high risk for developing breast cancer.
Raising over $10,000 for FORCE has helped support individuals and families facing decisions around hereditary breast, ovarian and related cancers.
I sent personal emails to my friends, family and colleagues and posted on my personal Facebook page to ask people to join my team and fundraising efforts.