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"You'll have your kids, and then you'll have your ovaries out."
These were the words that my doctor, a trained medical professional, said just moments after she'd told me over the phone that I'd tested positive for the BRCA2 gene.
I'd asked for the test because I have a pretty intense family history of cancer (breast cancer, lung cancer, and prostate cancer), and because I'm a monster of a control freak. BRCA genes play an active role in suppressing cancer, and if you have a mutation in those genes, your likelihood of developing either breast or ovarian cancer goes up tremendously. Knowing you have the mutation allows you to be incredibly vigilant about your health. And, like I said, I'm a control freak.
So, of course, I also knew all my options, pending a positive result. Regardless of what my doctor was going to tell me that day, I was determined to be prepared.
But I wasn't ready for what happened.
Prior to getting the test (which is a simple blood draw), I knew it was likely that I had the mutation. My cousin has it, and it's likely her mother did too; she passed away from cancer years earlier. But no amount of research can prepare you for such hard data that applies to yourself. Tears sprang to my eyes. I was scared. But when my doctor told me I'd tested positive and in the same breath told me to basically drive home, drop trou, and ask my boyfriend to put a baby in my oven, I was furious.
Not only was this statement assumptive that I was in a place in my life to have kids—and that I wanted to have them at all—but it was simply incorrect. She was telling me that an oophorectomy, the removal of the ovaries to treat or prevent ovarian cancer, was the only possible conclusion. She was only giving me one side of the story, and the scarier side, at that.
I thanked her for giving me my results, but told her sternly that I thought it was frankly irresponsible to tell patients—especially patients as young and directionless as me—that they needed to "have their kids and then have their ovaries out" immediately after delivering such news, as if that was the only option available for a person with the BRCA2 gene mutation. Because here's the thing: It's not.
In reading everything from Angelina Jolie's extremely accessible (and emotional) op-ed in the New York Times (opens in new tab)New York Times (opens in new tab) to dry medical journals that detailed the potential outcomes of double mastectomies and oophorectomies to articles about how to successfully carry out wait-and-see measures (which include alternating mammograms, ovarian MRIs, and breast sonograms), I knew there were other options.
There are actually many, many options available, and none of them are one-size-fits all—except one: The option to become your own advocate. The option to learn about all the potential ways to approach preventative care, and to talk to your doctor about what's right for you from an informed perspective. I recommend walking into ALL appointments armed with a list of symptoms and questions, and insisting on checking them all off before you leave.
Get check-ups as often as your insurance or income will allow—and thankfully, if you test positive for the BRCA gene mutation, that's more frequently than not. Preventative care is cheaper than treatment, so helping you stay healthy is in the best interest of your provider—take advantage of it! Try to stay as in tune with your body as possible so you can sense any changes. And for the love of whatever you do or do not believe in, do not make any huge changes to your life plan that you're not ready to make just because one doctor says you should.
I'm still not sure what I'm going to do, but whatever it is, it's going to be on my own terms.
Follow Marie Claire on Instagram (opens in new tab) for the latest celeb news, pretty pics, funny stuff, and an insider POV.
Rosemary Donahue is a co-publisher and editor at Lumen Magazine. She likes her dogs more than she likes most people. You can read more about her at rosemarydonahue.com.
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