By Kelly Kashmer
My phone rang when my one and three year old daughters were playing on the floor. We were enjoying our time together at home after a morning at the gym. You know how impossible it is to take a call with little ones around. It was my doctor on the phone and for the 30 minutes that we spoke, I only heard one thing: "You are BRCA2 positive."
What does this mean for me?
I hung up the phone and realized that the results were from a test my doctor had recommended I have done two weeks before at my OB/GYN's office. I had thrown away the pamphlet about genetic testing that my doctor had given me. My only exposure to genetic testing was seeing magazine articles about Angelina Jolie. I knew that my test results meant my chances of developing breast or ovarian cancer were significantly increased compared to the general population.
Okay. I didn't see that coming. The people in my family who had been diagnosed with cancer were much older than me. Since I was only 31, I didn’t think this was something I had to worry about right now. My life revolved around snacks, playgrounds, Zumba classes and cartwheels.
I met with a genetic counselor who gave me two options based on my tests results: aggressive screening or preventative surgery.
Although I already had two beautiful, healthy girls, I wasn't ready to have preventative surgery. I didn't know if once my daughters were in grade school, if my heart would ache to have more children. Thankfully, my husband worked through this decision with me and together we decided that I would have aggressive screening for two years and then revisit the decision again.
Testing BRCA positive was just the beginning…
I had never had an MRI or a mammogram, so these procedures were new to me. My baseline scans revealed something I could never have prepared myself for. I already had Stage II Triple Negative breast cancer. My life changed forever. I didn't have any symptoms of cancer. There was no lump, no illness. Nothing was red or inflamed. I was simply a 31-year-old mom with two small children who was told if I had waited six more months I wouldn't be writing these words now.
Over the course of the last three years, we, as a family, have gone down a very dark road of chemotherapy, surgeries, infections, blood transfusions, etc. My faith, family and friends pulled me up when I was too weak or ill to go on.
The lessons I have learned
There are three things I learned from this debilitating disease that I want to share with you:
- If you don't get screening, genetic counseling, or testing for yourself because you are a typical mom who always puts everyone first - DO IT FOR YOUR KIDS! This information is crucial to the lifestyle we live now. My sweet daughters already have a strike against them. Now, it's my responsibility to do everything I can to make sure we are living a healthy lifestyle.
- Your kids will have this information when they are older. It was extremely difficult for my family to find information regarding my grandmothers’ causes of death, because they didn't have these conversations. We later found out that my paternal grandmother and aunt both died of ovarian cancer.
- We come from both our mother and our father. My genetic mutation was passed down from my father. Although your Primary Care Physician and OB/GYN will typically discuss the maternal side, it's important to remember that we have both parents’ genetic makeup.
Thank you, FORCE
I'm so thankful to be a part of the FORCE community. The conference is something I NEVER miss. It is amazing, enlightening and educational. It was also very comforting to be with others who shared the same mutation as me. To me, FORCE is education, support, love, strength, community and friendship.
NothingPink is a non-profit organization I started local to Fort Mill. Our mission is simple - awareness, education and financial assistance to those who are in need of genetic testing for hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. This test saved my life and my personal goal is to help the women (and men!) of our community understand why taking that first step of meeting with a genetic counselor is so important.
Kelly Kashmer, BRCA2 Breast Cancer Survivor