When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29, doctors immediately sent me for genetic testing. We learned that even though I had no significant family history of cancer, I had inherited a genetic mutation from my dad’s family, giving me more than a 50 percent chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime. Unfortunately, I did not know about my BRCA2 status before finding a lump in my breast, since a prophylactic mastectomy could have significantly reduced my chances of getting breast cancer.
As a young woman with breast cancer, there have been times when I can’t decide if I feel more like a pariah or a celebrity. Now that I am stage 4 and living with cancer (a concept even I can’t wrap my head around sometimes), there are days when I struggle to be a normal person – a wife, mom, friend, daughter, sister … not the poster child for “young women get breast cancer too.” Although it is an important message to broadcast.
I refuse to think there is a “master plan” reason for me getting cancer, but I do know some good things have happened as a result of it. The only way I know how to make sense of my roller coaster life, is to hope my journey positively impacts other people.
I witnessed one of those impacts just yesterday when I received a text from my friend Jennifer, saying, “You are more of an inspiration than you know.”
My mom and I met Jennifer a few years ago at the Susan G. Komen 3-Day for the Cure in Dallas. With 60 miles of walking and talking, we quickly learned Jennifer was walking for her mom who had recently passed away from breast cancer. By the end of the three days, Jennifer had heard all about me and my breast cancer – and my increased risk as a result of a genetic mutation.
Over the next few years, Jennifer and I kept in touch. She met with my breast surgeon and underwent genetic counseling. She too, tested positive for a BRCA mutation, but without a cancer diagnosis, she had to face the tough question: now what? The last time I saw her, I had to break the news that my cancer had returned and is now stage 4.
Her text this week was to tell me she had scheduled a double mastectomy.
It’s silly to think of myself as an inspiration because I don’t feel like I have done or accomplished anything significant, but I do take comfort in knowing I have inspired her to take control of her own health. For those people who may not believe prophylactic surgery is the way to go – take a look at Jennifer’s two little guys: don’t you think they want their mommy to see them grow up? I know Henry does, and that’s what gets me out of bed every day, fighting the good fight.
In a few months I will take part in a clinical study to look for additional biomarkers like BRCA; because the more we know about my cancer, the better equipped we will be to fight it. Congratulations to my friend Jennifer, for doing everything in her power to fight cancer. I hope we continue making genetic discoveries that can empower other people to do the same.
Carrie Corey was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer at age 29 and with a stage 4 recurrence in 2012 at the age of 31. She is a wife and new mom living in Dallas, and will be reporting frequently on her cancer experiences.