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I first learned about hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genetic testing more than 12 years ago, when my cousin who had breast cancer tested positive for a BRCA mutation. At that time, I was single and eager to ignore this information. But it was always in the back of my mind. I had lost my mother to ovarian cancer when I was 8, but not before she had also fought breast cancer for several years. I didn't want to undergo genetic testing because I was afraid of what I would find out.
Ten years later I was married to a wonderful man and had two beautiful boys. During a routine mammogram the doctors found two calcification specs, most probably from breast feeding. Given my family history, the doctor suggested I have genetic counseling and testing. This time, the thought of being sick and not being there for my boys led me to decide that the test was too important to ignore. I realized that different from my mom, I had the privilege of having this information. I took the test and found out that, like my mother, I had a BRCA1 mutation.
Upon receiving the positive result I was frightened, but decided to become empowered and learn as much as I could. That's when I found FORCE and its wonderful community. The FORCE website was a constant source of support and information throughout my journey, from deciding on a reconstruction procedure, finding support through my painful recovery after surgery, and, most recently in December, getting answers to my questions about my oophorectomy. I have had the opportunity to attend two of the FORCE annual conferences, which made me feel that I was not alone; I am part of a community of brave and amazing women. I felt empowered to make the right decisions for me.
I was so grateful to FORCE and the strength and support that the organization had given me that I felt inspired to give back to others based on my own experience. Last October I was honored to be named the volunteer in charge of the FORCE Helpline. Every day I talk to women who are facing these same challenges, questions and concerns. Yet the more calls we answer, the more I continue to learn and feel inspired by the strength and perseverance of so many women. I am so grateful for FORCE and all of the gifts the organization has given, and continues to give, to me.