What do I have in common with Angelina Jolie (besides oversized lips that are apparent even in our baby photos)?
We're both moms.
We both discovered through DNA testing that we carry the BRCA1 genetic mutation.
We were both told we have an 87 percent chance of contracting breast cancer in our respective lifetimes.
We both opted for a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy to dramatically reduce our risks.
And we have both been criticized for our decisions.
The thing is, as moms, particularly moms of younger children, our motivation to live is greatly intensified. We are generally unwilling to roll the dice and just hope for the best. We will do whatever it takes to be there for our children. Whatever it takes, even if it involves amputation of body parts, permanent scarring, and challenges to our sexuality.
I tend to straddle the line between the world of traditional medicine and the "woo-woo" world of holistic treatment. I usually implement a mixture of both, and am willing to try pretty much any natural remedy for any condition. However, when it comes to a life or death situation, I have learned I do not even internally question whether or not I should take the riskier path. When I learned I had cancer, I was holding my five-day old daughter in my arms, having just come home from the hospital. I could not get hooked up to the chemo drip fast enough. More than ever before, I had an inordinate need to live. It was now my responsibility to do so.
Angelina stated in her New York Times op-ed, "I can tell my children that they don't need to fear they will lose me to breast cancer."
I get it. We want to do whatever we can to minimize our children's worries and fears.
And unlike my prior post-diagnosis surgery, which involved the removal of all of my female reproductive organs, this surgery is proactive rather than reactive. I will not have to worry about a second diagnosis of primary cancer, or two different types of cancer recurring in my body. One was enough.
Maybe if I were younger, single or without children, I might think of taking a wait-and-see, cross-that-bridge-if-we-come-to-it approach, but my circumstances are different now. I want to be there as my daughter grows and develops. I want to see her through her adolescent and teenaged years. I want to watch her graduate high school, pursue a career, get married and have children of her own if that's what she wants to do. I want to grow old with my husband.
I don't think of my decision as one based in fear (don't get me started on Melissa Etheridge, nor do I think that anything I do from a healthy living standpoint can correct a genetic mutation. In fact, I know it will not. I am taking matters into my own hands, given the cold, hard facts of the situation. And it feels good.
I actually have no fear about my upcoming surgery, which will take place in just a few days. I'm ready to get it behind me, and to get on with the business of living.
That's what we do as parents. We take care of ourselves so that we can be there for our children, just like putting on our own oxygen mask first in the event of a decrease in airplane cabin pressure.
Whatever it takes.
Image via the author