Nipples Optional: A Memoir - Section II: Bad genes, bad luck…or a combination of both


“After finding out I was BRCA1 positive I immediately began meeting with doctors. Unfortunately, many of these appointments discouraged me. For a short period of time, I felt lost. I wondered who was going to help me or did I have to save myself? Then my mother found Dr. J. Dr. J. saved my life. Well, saved me from a cancer diagnosis, at the very least. Since I have the memory of a dog, which is the next health issue I am going to tackle, my memory of our first meeting with Dr. J is a little hazy. She was a beautiful and very soft spoken woman, but she was very serious with us and completely understood the seriousness of being a BRCA1 gene mutation carrier as well as the urgency we were feeling. One thing I remember very vividly from our first meeting was her insistence on scheduling surgery as soon as possible. I was like, “Whoa, wait a minute!” I hadn’t decided when I was going to have the surgery. I had questions. Should I do it so soon, at the mere age of 21? I was single and I was getting ready to begin nursing school. Should I wait until after I got married and had children? That could be in ten years! I could have already been a cancer victim by then! Dr. J sensed my hesitation and suggested some ways we could just keep a very close eye on my breasts. Every six months I would have a mammogram and then six months later have a breast MRI. So, that is where we started.

I looked like such an anomaly going to the breast center for my first mammogram and I knew it. The questions. The stares. Nonetheless, a few days after my first mammogram came the results of my mammogram. Suspicious spots were found on my right breast. Immediately, Dr. J ordered a breast MRI. Within a day of the results of my mammogram, I found myself strapped face down on a board and put into a MRI tube, fighting back nausea and claustrophobia. It was nothing short of dreadful. A few days later the results came back. Again, suspicious spots. This time, very suspicious. Promptly, Dr. J ordered an ultrasound guided “punch biopsy”. A punch biopsy was guided by an ultrasound to locate the exact area to biopsy. After the radiologist punched 3 holes in my right breast with what looked like a small hole puncher, she handed me a box of Kleenex and said “I’m sorry,” implying, “You have cancer.” Her sympathy came from what she had seen on the breast ultrasound while doing the ultrasound punch biopsies. What she saw mimicked that of a malignancy. At the same time, I also had enlarged lymph nodes in my right armpit. Their thought was that I had breast cancer and it had already spread. If it was going to happen to anyone, it was going to happen to me! I was only 22-years-old, but I was a BRCA1 gene mutation carrier.

I can remember walking into my parent’s house that afternoon, after all of this had happened, and seeing my dad standing in our kitchen. I walked right into my dad’s arms and cried. He cried, too. I can only imagine his thoughts. He watched his wife go through this hell many years ago. Did he have to watch his daughter endure this, too?”