The C Word...
Most women are labeled as someone's hero at one point or another. They could be your mother, your sister, your grandmother, a famous artist, or maybe one of your best friends. Everyone has a story to tell, and I have been anxious to tell you some of Nicole’s.
Nicole was the 1 in 8 that developed invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. Besides skin cancer, breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among American women. About 5-10% of breast cancers can be linked to gene mutations inherited from one's mother or father. Mutations of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are the most common. On average, women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation have a 45-65% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. Breast cancer that is positive for the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations tends to develop more often in younger women. An increased ovarian cancer risk is also associated with these genetic mutations.
Nicole has an extensive family history of breast cancer. Her mother, her aunt, and grandmother have all been diagnosed with breast cancer. She cannot stress enough the importance of knowing your family history and being proactive. (CDC tool for creating a family health history chart). Her mother who was BRCA2 positive lost her ten year battle to cancer. Nicole plans on having or encouraging her children to be tested once they are old enough for genetic mutations and other various cancer screenings.
Okay -- I just dropped a bunch of stats, stessors and sad stuff on you. Big deal. It is a big deal, at least to me. I was diagnosed with a cancerous ovarian tumor when I was only 20. Seriously, only 20 years old. How can 20-year-old me even begin to comprehend what any of that means? Not only was I 20, but I was pregnant with my first child -- but this story isn’t just about me. Women are now diagnosed with cancer in America at an alarming rate, younger and younger. This story matters to all of us. These stories are warnings and lessons for us to learn from.
Let’s fast forward to now: Nicole has survived her cancer diagnosis. She is thriving and has been cancer-free for two years. She is a gorgeous wife and mother of three incredible children. I’m going to be quite honest -- not in a million years did I see myself being best friends with Nicole. Even though we went to the same high school, we were in different circles and had different interests. Now, some undisclosed amount of years later, she is definitely one of my besties and I am constantly in awe of her. She has handled battling breast cancer, losing her hair, all of the other complications, and still manages to be an amazing wife, mother, and friend. I see her pictures of pickling onions, and jarring corn, and crafting with the kids, and think, “How!?” She also has taken on the journey of eating a whole diet with me (which I talk about in my previous posts), and I love her for that.
Nicole was very aggressive in making sure she prevented cancer from coming back by having a double mastectomy and a full hysterectomy. She made that decision because she is married with three children to raise, all while factoring in her past and future options. Nicole made a video a few years ago while still undergoing chemo to talk about the process (see below).
If you want to get tested for BRCA1 or BRCA2, ask your doctor. Or, you can do what I did and do a genetic test (I used 23andme) with the health component. It was fun because I learned a lot about my ancestry AND got some important insight to my genetic health including BRCA1,2, and other health risks such as Parkinson's and Macular Degeneration among a few.
Please know that there are many types of BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, so if you have a family history and the test comes back negative that does NOT mean you will not develop cancer. If there is a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, have advanced testing done by your doctor.
We often forget the biggest heroes are often in our backyard. We are loved and cherished by so many people, including those we don’t even realize. Do the person that deems you a hero a solid and screen for cancer often and early. You’re loved and we want you around for a long time to come.
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Photo credit: Shawn Gwin
Family photo: Emmy Hackshaw