By Drea Thew
FORCE’s first national conference (February 2006) could not have come at a better time. I have known about my BRCA2 mutation for five years, since I was 29. After a lot of consideration, I chose to manage my breast cancer risk with aggressive surveillance until age 35 or so, and then reassess my options. In January of this year, however, I was diagnosed with DCIS. I knew that if this day ever came, I would choose bilateral mastectomies with immediate reconstruction, but I had no idea what type of mastectomy or reconstruction would be best for me. Because my healthcare team recommended surgery within six weeks, I had a lot of research and important decisions to make in a relatively short period.
Two weeks after my initial diagnosis, I was in Tampa. Nearly 200 attendees and almost 20 presenters, including three plastic surgeons and an unknown number of reconstructed breasts! Talking to real women about their experience with bilateral mastectomies and reconstruction, and seeing (even feeling) their results in person gave me more information in a few days than I could have found in months of reading or looking at pictures. The generosity and openness of these women was breathtaking. The Breast Reconstruction Options presentation was very valuable, opening my eyes to three different procedures and what they entailed.
Although reconstruction was front and center in my mind, that was certainly not all the conference was about for me. I was inspired and moved by Joanna Rudnick’s screening of In the Family, and I learned a great deal from many of the presenters. I thought I knew a lot, for a layperson, about this BRCA business. I was fascinated and amazed by some of the new information and insights I got from these researchers. Dr. Rebecca Sutphen, a researcher at Moffitt Cancer Center, will always hold a place in my heart for finally explaining proteomics to me in a way I could almost comprehend! I was especially interested in ovarian cancer risk management for BRCA2 mutation carriers who don’t have breasts (I will soon be in that category). I came away from the conference feeling like I have a good sense of the best way for me to proceed in terms of this very scary cancer.
As much as I learned from the experts, it was invaluable to connect with and learn from so many women who understand what living with hereditary breast/ovarian cancer risk means. And it was just plain fun hanging out for a few days with such intelligent, compassionate people.
On March 13, I had bilateral areolar-sparing mastectomies with sentinel node biopsies on both sides. I had immediate expander placement with AlloDerm®. Later, I will be getting silicone cohesive gel implants. I am still recovering from surgery, and am far from completing the process, but I am happy with my decision and thrilled to have the fear of breast cancer behind me. Although the surgery choices I made aren’t quite like any of those of the women I met in Tampa, I can honestly say I wouldn’t be as comfortable without the privilege of attending this conference at such a crucial time in my life. FORCE to the rescue, once again!