Unfortunately, the probability of me being diagnosed with breast cancer one day isn’t exactly minuscule. My great grandmother died from it. What I gather from my grandmother is that great granny was aware of her tumor(s), but chose not to be treated or tell anyone about them. Surgery then wasn’t what it is now, and my great grandmother had seen the “butchered” body of a neighbor who had a double mastectomy. The procedure had only bought her a few more years of life. Great gran took no action, and lived another decade.
These days you can be tested for the BRCA gene, or the “breast cancer gene.” After undergoing a lumpectomy when she was 36, actress Christina Applegate had the test run in order to make the tough decision between ongoing radiation or the surgical removal of both of her breasts. Her test came back positive, and she opted for the double mastectomy:
“It came on really fast. It was one of those things that I woke up and it felt so right,” she says. “It just seemed like, ‘I don’t want to have to deal with this again. I don’t want to keep putting that stuff in my body. I just want to be done with this.’ I was just going to let them go.”
Like my great grandmother, Applegate had witnessed the rather ugly results of an early mastectomy — her mother’s:
“[Her surgery] was in the ’70s, and they didn’t do a very good job back then,” she says. “So in my own mind I’m thinking, ‘My God, I’m going to be butchered, and it’s going to be horrible. I’m never going to love that part of me again.’ But I did a lot of research, and they can make some pretty boobies.”
Like the Samantha Who? star, who has become an avid breast cancer educator and icon for victims and survivors of the disease, Lindsay Avner of breast cancer prevention non-profit Bright Pink also underwent a double mastectomy. When she was 23.
Three years ago, Avner tested positive for the BRCA gene — which meant she had between a 60 and 80 percent chance of developing breast cancer. Her surgery, according to cnn.com, ”involv[ed] removing as much of the at-risk tissue as possible, in order to reduce the chance of developing cancer.” The following year, she founded Bright Pink in order to provide young women with the education that her forbears didn’t have:
“It’s something our parents and grandparents didn’t have available,” Avner said. Every female member of [Avner's] family, from aunts to her grandmother, died from the disease.
Avner’s mother did in fact survive, but fought off cancer FOUR times. The pain of watching her mother was a major factor in Avner’s decision to have the surgery at such a young age:
“I wanted to know, so my future kids don’t suffer like I did, seeing my mom going through chemo and struggling with it.”
According to the CNN article, most insurance companies won’t cover BRCA testing, and those women who test positive are concerned about making their insurance companies aware, for fear of lost coverage or increased cost.
Although the risk of breast cancer in women under 40 isn’t high (about 5%), Avner’s physician, Dr. Deborah Lindner, holds that breast cancer is “not an old person’s disease.” When young women do get breast cancer, it spreads faster and is more difficult to treat than in those victims over 40. Lindner had a double mastectomy herself at 32 after she took the BRCA test, and now serves on Bright Pink’s board.
Nicole Lapin, the author of the CNN piece on Avner, just had to go and ask her how her double mastectomy affects her dating life — and Avner responded with more grace than the query deserved:
“It’s just as hard as it is for any woman in her 20s. But, I am in a good place right now. I know myself and I’m comfortable with who that is … Some guys Google me before we go out. They’re immature and tell their friends how [my breasts] look and feel, but those guys aren’t for me … I mean, after all, what difference does it make? It’s just a boob.”
Seriously: What a mature and inspiring young woman. Makes me feel a teensy bit superficial, because I’m not sure that I could undergo a surgery that may or may not be necessary. I’d have to have the support of family and friends, and maybe an organization like Avner’s. To learn more about Bright Pink and how you can get involved, just click here.
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