In 2003, my mother was diagnosed with stage IV metastatic breast cancer and unfortunately lost her four-year battle at the young of age 52. Shortly after my mother’s battle with cancer, my father was diagnosed with prostate cancer at age 53. He elected to have his prostate removed and is currently doing well. I knew that the odds were against me as I was born into three generations of women affected by breast cancer. After experiencing my mother’s battle and witnessing my father deal with prostate cancer, naturally, I believed I was next. I was scared. I had questions, and I needed answers.
It was then that I took immediate action. My OB/GYN suggested genetic counseling and screening for the BRCA genetic mutation. At the age of 22, my test revealed that I was BRCA2 positive, a leading marker for the disease.
Exploring my Options
I was referred to a high-risk oncologist at the age of 22, but my pride got the best of me, and I refused to see her. I didn’t want to face it or accept it, being in her office reminded me of the many days my parents spent in treatment.
After my second trip to my oncologist, she finally gave me the humbling experience I needed. She presented me with my various options, and we decided that ongoing surveillance was the best option for me and prophylactic options could be visited at a later time.
I spent ten-years undergoing surveillance, and towards the end of those ten years, God blessed me with a husband and a beautiful daughter. I went from just thinking about me to thinking about three. Lord, what do I do?
During the first years as a mother, I began to pray and have a conversation with my husband about my breast health. An oophorectomy was not an option at the moment since we wanted to have more children. My screenings had temporarily been put on hold since I was pregnant and breastfeeding, but I knew it was time to pick up where I left off. Did I really want to like this new point in my life? The answer was no. I needed a new plan for my new normal.
When my daughter was 2, I underwent a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy in December 2016 and reconstruction the following March.
“The Big Discovery” During Recovery
I had to be patient with myself and build my stamina and strength. My mind would tell me I could GO, GO, GO, but my body said NO, NO, NO! I had to learn to listen to my body and my doctors, so I could recover safely and properly. I was not prepared for the emotional journey. There were moments I cried, and still cry, as I think about not being able to breastfeed again. One of my fears was that my husband would not look at my body the same, but he shows me every day he loves my body. I could not have made it through this process without him.
There were times I felt so helpless, trying to help my two-year-old understand why I couldn’t hold her, pick her up or take her to school and ballet class. It reminded me of when my mother was sick and how she felt trying to explain her cancer journey with me. It was during my recovery I was led to write an educational tool to assist families and children in navigating through their cancer journey. Inspired by my parent’s journey with cancer, my daughter, my time as a health teacher, I made the decision to write “The Big Discovery.” I had a story to tell.
From Pain to Purpose
There were moments I felt less than a woman because I felt my breasts defined me. I learned to remind myself that my mind, character, and strength, define my womanhood. I have been “gracefully broken” and rebuilt with strength, and all glory goes to my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
Two years later, I feel empowered, more confident, and I know that this decision didn’t define me, it refined me. When my husband and I finish having children, we will consider a prophylactic oophorectomy, a surgery that removes the ovaries and further reduces my chances of developing cancer. Right now, I am taking one step at a time.
To all the fighters - keep fighting, to all the survivors - keep surviving, to all the previvors - keep preventing because although our paths are different, our goal is the same, and that is to live!
Ashley A. Dedmon, MPH, CHES ®
Two parents with cancer Survivor
Women’s Health Fighter
“The Big Discovery” is available on Amazon.