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last tuesday, angelina jolie announced in a new york times op-ed feature that she has undergone a preventative double mastectomy because she carries a brca gene.

my mom was diagnosed with (advanced stage 3 or 4) breast cancer at 32, when i was 1.  she beat it and lived for seven more years before dying at 39, when i was 8.  my mom's death has (obviously) had a lifelong influence on me.  in many ways, i am only now understanding and overcoming the immense grief as i experience it anew as a mother.  parenthood changes everything, even things you thought you processed long ago.  as i am watching my daughter grow, it brings to the surface how much i really and truly miss my mom.

when you are little, you look at your parents as superhuman.  being able to overcome anything.  i remember repeatedly asking my mom to marry me when i was young because i couldn't imagine ever loving someone as much as i loved her.  you then enter the teenage years, think your parents know nothing, and then eventually come full circle where you are able to appreciate your parents as an adults and friends.  for me this cycle halted, cut short as a child, watching someone i thought was superhuman succumb to death.  that instilled a fear in me that i have never been able to truly cope with.  the pain of never knowing my mother as an adult is something that never leaves you completely.

medically, what her diagnosis means for me is that i go to check ups every 6 months, have yearly MRI's and mammograms, diagnostic ultrasounds of anything "suspicious", have already undergone a lumpectomy at 24 (benign), and have already had two specialists recommend prophylactic surgery.

at this stage of my life, i have begun genetic counseling and testing.  but the genes that we know about only account for 10% of cancer... 90% is still left unanswered.  i will go through this process and receive either positives or negatives... but i will still not know if it means anything because my mom didn't have any genetic testing done.  it's almost as if the best i can hope for is a positive because then i know.  no positive hit could mean i do have a gene that isn't detected yet, my mom didn't have a gene it was random, or my mom had a gene and i didn't get it.

there has been and still is a lot of fear in me in regards to breast cancer.  and in regards to life and death and loss.  my mind constantly swirls around loss, ruining precious moments that should be mine for enjoyment.  my daughter in the sunshine, my husband whispering "i love you" too often these moments are immediately followed by an arresting fear.

fear is given a bad rap in our culture "don't make decisions based out of fear."  but having my past that i do, i disagree with this.  fear is a NATURAL emotion and one that should not be ignored or explained away.  although we can do our best to overcome fears, this can be done in a multitude of ways.  for example, with the birth of my first child, i knew from the beginning i wanted a c-section.  my anxiety level about birth and the birth process plus the chance of emergency c-section (40%) weighed so heavily on my mind that for me there was no option but to schedule it.  my doctor fortunately understood my decision, and i received nothing but support from him or my husband.  this decision was based on fear, but there is no doubt that for me it was the right one.  i overcame my fear of childbirth but i did it in a highly unconventional way and one that many woman may not agree with.

prophylactic surgery, at this stage, for me would be based on fear.  fear of not watching my daughter grow up, fear of her experiencing the same, overwhelming heartbreak that i have, fear of leaving my husband...  but i don't think that these motivations are wrong.  and for the women that have chosen the surgery, if it was based on fear - that's ok! we stand behind you 100% for whatever reason it was made.  for right now, i am not 100% sure what i will choose (providing i don't get a "hit" during genetic testing, then my mind is made up and i would proceed with prophylactic surgery at the earliest possible time).  a preventative double mastectomy is not a walk in the park and it will forever change me.  but so would cancer.

sometimes fear is overcome by embracing extreme action.  "conquering" can mean something different to every person alive.  for now, i will walk all avenues available to me, counseling for my mental health and my specialists for my physical health.  i choose to leave no stone un-turned because my daughter depends on me.  i walk this road of conquering fear for her.

for now a "thank you" to the women who have to make these decisions and the specialists and doctor's out there that are helping us.  my doctor's are literally AMAZING and to have their support in addition to my family is almost to much to handle.  

this post is dedicated to my daughter and to my mom, who is missed every day.  


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