This is one of those subjects that is going to be awkward pretty much no matter what, so I am just going to jump in and see what floats to the surface. Yerk!
So, this is the story of how I came to consider having my ovaries/uterus/breasts electively removed.
You see, three generations of women on my mother’s side have had either breast cancer or ovarian cancer (or both) at a young age, some terminally and some not. And that’s three generations that we know of. With the diagnosis of my mother’s ovarian cancer a few years ago, the question of doing some genetic testing was raised by her oncologist. We blew it off after reading that the testing starts at a cheery $3,000 a person.
Flash forward a few years, and me getting my yearly exam. Every time I get the exam, the doctor asks, “And is there any cancer in your family?” and I have to break it down over the course of 15 minutes. This year, tired of telling them – because why? Are you ever going to write it down and put it in my medical file? No? Great! Because I love having this talk! It’s one of my top five, right up there with “Is that a bruise on your leg?” (has no one heard of spider veins?) and “What’s up with those tattoos?” – I tersely said, “Yes, all the women have had cancer, some are living, some are dead.” To which the actually nice doctor made a sad face at and then said as she left, “I need you to stop in with the counselor before you leave.”
Oh. Brother. Seriously? Wait, I’m 28 years old and paying lab fees for this crap, and I can still get detention?
Turns out they just wanted to tell me that the local hospital has a genetic testing lab that handles a lot of self-pay (read: unemployed blogtards) folks. We give them a call and on the spot they tell me that the Susan B. Komen Foundation will at least cover my consultation appointment. Well!
Long story short: it seems likely that my mother’s side of the family are carriers for a gene that likes to make ladies’ lady parts mutate. If she (and I) are carriers, then comes the big question, and the bulk of the conversation with the really great scientists over at the genetic lab: what, if any, preventative measures am I willing to take?
It’s pretty simple, and breaks down like this: the average woman has a 13% chance of getting breast cancer in her lifetime. A BRCA1 carrier has a 50-85% chance of getting breast cancer (I would place at the 85% end of the spectrum due to the three-generational pinata-effect) and since ovarian cancer is also clearly a variation that our gene would have, the same sort of statistics apply.
The thing that I am getting hung up on here is how kind of strangely awed I am that this is a decision I get to make. My mother didn’t get to make this decision. There are heavy considerations at stake, of course – these surgeries are intense and take a year to fully recover from, and even though I have no current desire to have children, no one really wants that choice taken from them. Well, maybe I do. Oy, I is there a therapist in the house? But as I told the kids at the genetic lab, I can buy a baby. I can’t buy a cure for cancer. Add to this the issue of my already having a risky disease, and well, things get weird.
But, my brain keeps coming back to what a strange technological grab-bag this is: we can isolate the likelihood of a mutation occurring in the body. Far out. And the only way to really ensure that these mutations don’t happen is to… remove the organs they might happen in. Far… out? It’s so steampunk. In my mind there is a wooden operating table and my surgical gown is made of ivory lace.
Now, I don’t mean to imply that I’d get everything removed should I be the proud owner of the BRCA1/2 gene, even the people at the lab pointed out that the great bulk of cancer money goes towards breast cancer, which means that breast cancer detection and treatment is phenomenally successfully these days. Ovarian cancer, on the other paw, is still a lurking Great White of bad news and if someone offers to magic them out of me, I believe I’d be a fool not to jump. Still, what a strange world.
So I guess what I am saying is (and since I’ve already made up my mind for a wide spectrum of scenarios), what would you do? And since the boys in the house can’t really compare their junk to my junk (if I had a double mastectomy I’d get some FABULOUS FAKE TITTIES, whereas they can’t really go getting a fake wiener, as far as I know) – let’s say it’s an arm or something. Wait, no. Whatever, what would you do?