By Angela Schmidt Fishbaugh, M.Ed., CET II
I tested positive in 2009 for the BRCA1 deleterious mutated gene. Back then, at the age of 41 I became a previvor. I made the decision to undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy followed by a total hysterectomy. I had both surgeries within eight weeks of one another. At that point in time I never had cancer; however, I knew a lot about the pain of cancer and the power it had to traumatize a family.
My dad died at 42, my mother died at 52, my grandmother died at 47, my other grandmother died at 52, and my uncle died at 58, all from cancer. I touch on their uphill battles with cancer in my book, Angela’s Decision: Outsmarting My Cancer Genes and Determining My Fate. I wrote about their stories and all the implications of my preventative surgeries because I wanted the world to know about BRCA testing, reconstructive surgery options, and the power of advocating for your health. I also wanted others to deeply know what it is like to lose loved ones from cancer and what it feels like to test positive for the mutated BRCA1 gene myself. If even one person could be inspired by my story and how I did everything in my power to prevent cancer from knocking on my door, then I felt I had done my job well.
Last year I attended FORCE’s conference in Philadelphia and promoted my book in the Expo Hall. I had the privilege of meeting Dr. Ashworth, a key team member that discovered the 1995 BRCA2 gene. He listened intently as I told him my previvor story and how I continued to eat healthy, practice yoga and limited unhealthy choices in my life, with the exception of my cheesy crackers that I love and my red wine at dinner. He laughed. At the end of our conversation I asked him if there was anything else I could do to prevent myself from getting cancer. He sadly shook his head no and said, “You’ve done everything you can do.”
One month later, at the age of 47, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was told I no longer needed breast MRIs. I never knew you could have a partial mastectomy after already having had a double mastectomy. After finding out that it had spread to my lymph nodes I had to have yet another surgery to remove more of the tumor from the within the margins of the limited breast tissue that was left.
After 3 surgeries, 16 chemo treatments, and 33 radiation treatments this past year, I am grateful to report that I am now cancer free. I am grateful for the love of my family, friends, the strength of my spirit to overcome so much in a lifetime, and for finding outstanding organizations such as FORCE. I am now advocating for previvors and breast MRI screenings. I am currently writing the next chapter in my life within a new book, From Previvor to Survivor.
Angela Schmidt Fishbaugh is an educator, therapist, speaker, and the author of
- Seeking Balance in an Unbalanced World: A Teacher’s Journey
- Celebrate Nature! Activities for Every Season
- Angela’s Decision: Outsmarting My Cancer Genes and Determining My Fate
She holds a master’s degree in education. She lives in New York with her three children and husband. Visit her website: www.balanceteacher.comTags: brca, BRCA 1, brca testing, breast cancer, gene testing, HBOC, hereditary cancer, previvor, prophylactic mastectomy, prophylactic surgery, young survivor