Sunday, 24 April 2011

Genetics and the "C" Word

If you have a half functioning heart, no breasts, and eventually no ovaries - what exactly are you??? One BAD-ASS Bionic Woman! (obviously!) And...Me!

There it is in black and white - My genetics SUCK!
I mentioned in my very first blog post that just over a year and half ago my Mom experienced her own health battle, and won against breast cancer. For most woman breast cancer is not actually the result of genetics, over 75% of women develop breast cancer simply because they are women and they are getting older (despite the hype surrounding the "breast cancer gene"). However, this is not the case for my family. After my mother's diagnosis and treatment she insisted on genetic screening because of a family history laced heavily with both Breast and Ovarian cancer, the two cancers linked to the BRCA genes. She tested positive, and now so have I.

GENETICS - you have screwed me again. And my title as a reigning Darwinian Fail remains intact. So what exactly does that mean? Being positive for the BRCA gene does NOT mean that you will get cancer. It DOES mean that your risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer has been significantly increased. If you are woman in the general population, simply because you are a woman, your chances of getting breast cancer are approximately 12%. If you have the BRCA 1 gene (which I do) your risk of developing breast cancer jumps to the range of about 40-70% of developing the disease. I am not a usually a betting woman, and math has never been my strong suit, but those aren't great odds. Anything above 50% when it comes to my health; I don't consider stellar.

If your genetic testing comes back positive you are given a couple options...
1.) You now know you are in a high risk category and if you are over the age of 25 then you can start screening immediately. You are followed by the high-risk cancer team, and you receive screening every 6 month. This option is great, because if there are any abnormalities it will likely be caught early and treatment is that much more effective. The only downside to this approach is that if the screening finds something you will need to proceed with treatment - which would likely include surgery, chemo, and radiation (Not great prospects). Your other option 2.) is to do a preventative full mastectomy and reconstruction (aka get fake ta-tas). This may seem extreme to some, but no boobs = no breast cancer. So that is the option I am going with.

There are many factors that have gone into making this decision, and I obviously approach it from a unique perspective - informed by my muddled medical experiences. But probably one of the most significant influences is my need to maintain a feeling of control or mastery over my own body. I have been in the difficult situation in the past where I would describe my position as helpless. There was a time where I felt absolutely powerless to do anything but abide by the will of my body, and this is not a place I plan to revisit. It is because of those experiences that I try to take such an active approach with my health everyday. And why I will take an active (and to some, perhaps aggressive) approach against this latest genetic set back.

There are many details that still need to be worked out, and it is still early days in terms of taking on my latest Darwinian failure. There is no quick fix, and this is likely to be a long journey - but I will keep you posted all the way along. As Mary Engelbreit so aptly said, "if you don't like something change it; if you can't change it, change the way you think about it." This is something I can't change, so I will accept this as a renewed challenge from an old foe.

Genetics, the war continues! And BRCA 1 gene the stage has been set for our first battle. Saturday June 11th I am running a 10 k Race to Heal Breast Cancer.This race was supposed to be for my Mom, but it is now also for me. This just got personal! I plan to be kicking ass and taking names, while also hopefully raising money and awareness for Breast Cancer Support Services. If you would like to sponsor me please follow this link and join the fight with me.

I have said since the beginning that the idea of genetic fitness includes more than just biology. Fitness is also defined by adaptability, perseverance, and strength – and this is my definition!

Screw you Genetics!
Love your favourite Darwinian Fail,