I wish the circumstances were different, but the fact of the matter is, I come from a long line of women with breast cancer. My mother, grandmother and great-grandmother all suffered from it. While my grandmother was able to beat the odds way back in 1966, my own mother was not; she passed away in 1991 because doctors thought it was too radical to have a preventive double mastectomy at the time. In 2005, I chose to have genetic testing, and the results, not surprisingly, were positive for BRCA1. I had just had my first child, and was about to have a second. I knew, no matter what, that I had two reasons right there for having preventive surgery.
Fast forward to 2015, ten years later, I was finally able to have my preventive double mastectomy and reconstruction. Life kept getting in the way…pregnant or breast feeding two more times since diagnosis, moving overseas to a country that barely had any awareness or doctors skilled in breast reconstruction, then moving to yet another country, where finally, the cards fell in place. I flew from Singapore to Texas to have my surgery with Dr. Chrysopoulo at PRMA in San Antonio.
Throughout my planning, surgery and recovery, I kept a very open and detailed blog, hoping to help other women understand the process. But I kept thinking about my own kids. I was so open with them, and allowed them to be a part of the process. So, I wrote down our initial conversation about BRCA and why we were flying to Texas in a blog post. That post, as well as the surgery and recovery, turned into a children’s book, Why is Mommy Having Surgery, She Looks Ok to Me.
2015 is the year I got my life back—and I'm hopeful that what I've learned and gone through, as well as my children, can help other mothers and children traveling the same path.
Heather Barnard is a mother to three beautiful children and a loving wife to her husband of 14 years. The family currently lives overseas where Heather is teaching and they enjoy a life of travel. When she's not teaching, she advocates on Twitter for women to know their options with BRCA from genetic testing to choosing a surgeon and the types of available preventive surgery.
For another great resource on discussing hereditary cancer risk with children, read our booklet created in collaboration with the National Society of Genetic Counselors, Talking About BRCA in Your Family Tree.