by Cindy Townsend
My story begins when I was 40 and I had my first mammogram. I was forced to write, "NO FAMILY HISTORY, ADOPTED" on the form that asked for my family medical information. After going back to work, I had an urge to look up my biological mother's name on the Internet, as I have done countless other times with no results. But this time, something came up: her obituary. Months later, I found out from my biological sister that my mother fought a courageous, four-year battle with breast cancer but sadly died at the age of 52. Coincidently, my doctors were offering an affordable genetic test at that time, so I signed up. After genetic counseling and testing, I found out that I have an ATM mutation. I had never heard of it, and I learned that with a strong history of family cancer, I was at a very high risk.
Making a decision and reaching out to FORCE
My genetic counselor suggested I see a breast surgeon to understand my options. At my appointment, my surgeon gave me two choices. One was to follow a maintenance plan of yearly mammograms, MRIs and doctor visits. The other was a double mastectomy with reconstruction. I almost fell off my chair. I wasn't expecting to make such a difficult choice so soon. But after plenty of research, talks with my family and considering my odds of getting breast cancer, I decided to have bilateral DIEP flap surgery with reconstruction. That was when I reached out to FORCE for support. I was thrilled to see that they offered a program where you could talk to other women who might also carry the same mutation and/or have the same type of surgery. It was so comforting to speak with women who went through what I was going through and to see that they were doing just fine. I was able to ask questions and learn what the road ahead of me might look like.
Even better on the other side
I'm happy to say I made it through my surgery and reconstruction with flying colors! This journey has changed me for the better. I learned so much about myself through this process. I wouldn't change one thing. I decided after I healed that I would volunteer with FORCE to see if I could provide the same comfort to others that I received before my surgery. I really enjoy talking with women and letting them know that you can come out of this on the other side better than you were before. And that it’s all going to be ok.