Pink Hope Outreach Ambassador Sarah shares her personal experience on how she made the decision to have a prophylactic breast mastectomy.
I believe our experiences through life shape us. Our experiences impact our very thoughts, our feelings and our directions in life. In my life story thus far, I have experienced my mother battling breast cancer through the eyes of a five-year-old. And after my mother’s physical scars had healed, and emotion scars still raw, I lost my father in a car accident at the age of fifteen. Therefore, it comes as no surprise to me NOW that I want to protect my (future) family from tragedy and trauma, as much as I possibly can. Now this isn’t a story of tragedy and despair, it’s far from it! This is a story of courage and strength and finding confidence in ones decisions. I have come out the other side feeling more confident than ever about my choices. Now I understand what compels me to remove my ‘healthy’ breasts before I have the chance to ever breast feed, but this took some time to come to this realisation. For me, coming to a decision was the hardest thing I have ever had to do. Six months ago I found myself in a world of doubt.
I have known about my BRCA2 diagnoses for the past 10 years, and whilst I was young and single and without a family of my own I felt mostly carefree about the issue. I saw it as confirmation of what I already knew. That one day, like my mother, I would too be diagnosed with breast cancer, that I would be sick for a while and be physically and emotionally scarred, but like my mother, I would make a full recovery and after sometime it would be reduced to a paragraph in my life story. I felt that on my own, I was prepared to take the risk of cancer and keep my own breasts. Whist I was blissfully self-absorbed in my 20-something and single life, I was comfortable with the thought of one day having to battle breast cancer. Up until around 18 months ago this all changed.
My life stage was changing. I found myself engaged to a beautiful man I loved, planning a wedding and discussing plans to start a family! Over the next year I began to feel less and less comfortable with the idea of getting breast cancer. Suddenly I was hit with this overwhelming feeling of responsibility. It was no longer just me that I would have to worry about coping with a breast cancer diagnosis. I have never felt strongly scared of cancer, but as I mature I feel more and more responsible to protect my family. My husband and my future babies, that we lovingly want to bring into this world, will be impacted by my health. The decision I make in regards to prophylactic surgery needs to sit comfortably with me. I need to trust that I have done the right thing for my family’s future.
I found myself in a dark bog of stress, filled with anxiety, confusion and the pressure I was placing on myself, to make a conscious decision, either way, to have a Prophylactic Breast Mastectomy (PBM) before, or after, having a family. Not an easy decision to make, it certainly wasn’t for me. There I was, married a few months beforehand, in a beautiful home, in a stable job I loved. I should have been feeling on top of the world. Instead, I was drowning in research papers and specialist advice trying to find answers to the question, “what should I do?” I felt overwhelming pressure (from myself) to make the decision once and for all. Was I keeping my breasts and risking cancer, or was I signing up to undergo major surgery to remove my breasts and give up the chance to breast feed my children? Time felt as though it was going by so quickly and yet I felt as though I was getting further from making my decision. I’m 30 years old, the age my mother was when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I feel that both my good health and my biological clock are loudly ticking. After days of sifting through information and trying to get a decision to jump from the pages and hit me in the face, two positive things happened. One; I watched a TED video about ‘How to Make Hard Choices’, and two; I joined Pink Hope.
In the TED talk entitled ‘How to Make Hard Choices’ the speaker described how difficult decisions are difficult because there is no clear wrong or right answer. This is why they are difficult. Now I know it’s not rocket science but this struck a chord with me. She went on to explain how each have pros and cons and each are in essence, the right decision, should you choose it. I see myself as an optimist and I literally do believe whichever decision I was to make, would in the end, be the right decision, as this is the one I have made. Now you would be forgiven for thinking that this view should make deciding easy, but it doesn’t. Instead of trying so hard to weigh up pros and cos and still get to the conclusion that both decisions have their merits, the speaker proclaimed, instead choose the decision that you want to be told in your life story. This made me ask myself a different question, “do you want to be the mother who took her chances to give the gift of breast feeding to her loved babies, or do you want to be the mother who took risk reducing surgery to ensure all she could to be healthy and around for her children”? This question shone light down on my two clear options in front of me and made my path begin to glow. Remember our experiences in life shape our choices and I see that having experienced my own mother being sick with breast cancer as a pre-school child, has influenced me to ensure the opposite.
The second light that shined on me during this time in the boggy pit I was experiencing was the world of support that opened up to me when I signed up to Pink Hope’s online support groups. At this time I deliberately did not want to involve my family in the decision process (aside from my husband) as I wanted to make sure their views did not influence my decision. I love my family, and their approval means so much to me, I felt strongly that it would be impossible not to be influenced by their thoughts on the issue. However, in the end it would be my husband and I who have to live with the decision. So where my family couldn’t be, the girls on Pink Hope were there for me. I didn’t know them and yet shared so much with them. I asked other women about what influenced their decision pro or against PBM, whether they went under the knife before or after having a family and their satisfaction with their decisions later down the track. I received so much useful information without feeling any pressure to please. Meeting with a local girl who reached out to me on Pink Hope, who knows, firsthand, all the difficulties and concerns and questions I had, was the first day of my crawl up out of that bog and into a world of confidence in my choices. I can’t thank her enough.
Since making the decision and booking my PBM for May this year, I feel a sense of relief, I feel empowered, I feel confident and I feel, well, happy. I must admit, it didn’t happen instantaneously after deciding on my path, but gradually, I feel more comfortable with my decision as time goes on. There are still some days I wake up and think “what on earth am I doing!”, but these days are becoming fewer and further between.
Since choosing the path I wish to be a paragraph in my life story, I am at peace and have never felt so in control of my destiny.
For those who tell me I have chosen this path out of fear or worry, this is so far from the truth. I have chosen this path out of courage to be the wife and mother I wish to be and to write my own life story.
For others of you reading this story and looking for the answers to similar questions, I encourage you to utilise the women on Pink Hope, to share in others stories and find the answers that sit most comfortably with you. Consider watching the TED Talk ‘How to Make Hard Choices’ it helped me to view my difficult decisions in a different light. I hope you will be able to feel the sense of empowerment and confidence as I have with making your decision and writing choosing your path!