This month marks a special milestone. It passed with few words. What do you say, after all, when your mother marks five years since undergoing a mastectomy?
Five years is a key number when it comes to cancer: If you’ve made it that far, you’re considered a “cancer survivor.” I started counting the moment my mother emerged from surgery. With each April that passes, I breathe a little easier.
It seems appropriate, even if by chance, that I will have my first mammogram this month. I’ll undergo more diagnostic screenings than is normally prescribed because of my family history. I’m also starting at a younger age, as a precaution. I won’t, however, undergo an MRI, which the American Cancer Society now suggests for women with higher risks of developing breast cancer. Maybe next time.
But it got me thinking about another type of screening – genetic testing. How much do you want to know about your future health?
If you had asked me three years ago whether I wanted to know if I carried an inherited gene "alteration" known to increase the chances of developing breast cancer, I would have said, “No way.” But now that I’m a mother of a two-year-old boy, I want to make sure, more than ever before, that I am healthy for a very long time.
When my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, I was 12-years-old. She survived, and I grew up giving little thought to the prospect of my health. Young and invincible, as they say. But when my mother – my aunt’s older sister – developed breast cancer, I woke up.
“What does that mean for me or my sister?” I thought. My doctor at the time wasn’t worried. He didn’t even suggest moving up the age in which I would get my first mammogram. He did mention, however, genetic testing.
“Well, what do I do if I find out I carry this gene?” I asked him. He gave me two options: 1) Do nothing. 2) Consider having a preventive mastectomy. Neither sounded comforting. I’d either know too much without doing anything about it, or I’d take a drastic measure that may be unnecessary. Either way, the test could not guarantee that I would or would not develop breast cancer.
Much in the way I didn’t want to know the sex of my child before he was born, I’ve decided for now that I don’t want to know if I’m carrying a gene mutation that may or may not cut short my life. The best thing I could do for my son is to eat well and exercise regularly -- and remind him how lucky he is to have Abuela around to spoil him.