Every October our community goes all out pink to drive awareness for breast cancer. It is a bittersweet reminder I am not a breast cancer survivor, but I am a survivor in my own right. Three years ago I took preventative steps to ward off cancer including a double prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction and a hysterectomy. My scars are almost invisible now, back to flesh tone and the feeling in my breasts has returned. My breasts look fantastic, and I am in awe of the medical advances made!

If you knew you had more than a 50% chance of winning the lotto would you play?

I don’t watch a lot of television, and if Brad Pitt knocked on my door I wouldn’t even know it! I did, however, pay close attention to Angelina Jolie in 2013 when she went public about being a BRCA1 mutation carrier and openly discussed her mastectomy and reconstruction. I recall the strange oh shit feeling that overcame me and how I knew I was positive before the test even came back and sure enough through genetic testing, I learned that I was indeed a carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation and have an 80% likely chance of developing breast cancer and a 44% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

Pandora’s Box

To minimize my risk of ovarian cancer, it was recommended I have a hysterectomy since currently, there is not a good way to screen for ovarian cancer. In 2014 I went under a full hysterectomy, and I then had another agonizing decision to make — go under high surveillance screening for breast cancer which includes an annual MRI and mammogram, take tamoxifen for the rest of my life or have a prophylactic mastectomy with reconstruction (covered by insurance). After my oncologist, Dr. Corgan passed away from breast cancer in early 2015 at age 44, the decision became clear, and I opted for surgery. It is hard to believe in this day and age that cutting off body parts is our best defense against cancer.

While the surgery(s) itself were uneventful and I had a speedy recovery(s), I was not prepared for how my body would respond to being forced into menopause in my 30’s. I was not ready for the “foggy” brain, dramatic mood swings, and sleepless nights as a result of the onset of many food allergies triggered by my autoimmune response. I was not prepared for chronic nerve pain that presents itself in an itch in my upper arms that I will depend on medicine for the rest of my life for relief.

Most importantly, I learned my two boys have a 50% chance of having a BRCA gene mutation which means an elevated risk of developing prostate, pancreatic and breast cancer.

Press rewind

So, if I had the chance to go back in time would I still have gone through the preventative surgeries? Absolutely yes! Knowledge is a gift, and I have so much gratitude for. Too many women have passed away from an aggressive form of cancer and had they had this knowledge it could have made a difference for their survival. For women in the same predicament, my advice is:

Ask your doctor(s) to monitor your hormones closely. I am three years post op now and still struggle with getting my hormone levels right.

Be thankful for your body, treat it well by eating right and exercising! No matter how I am feeling or little sleep I have, I will make it to the gym nearly every morning.

To the other women who have had a hysterectomy — we are at a high risk of developing osteoporosis; start running! It is the only cardiovascular activity that will build up bone density.

You know your body better than anyone else. If you sense something is off, it probably is. Keep the communication lines) open with your doctor(s) and discuss all symptoms, no matter how minor, you experience.

I hope by publically writing about my experience, I can help drive awareness of genetic cancer and how vital funding research is to eradicate this heartbreaking disease. The fight against cancer is very real.

Originally published at medium.com


  • Ilana Frenkel Kearns

    Strategic Business Operations and Communications Leader Connecting the Dots to Drive Process Improvement and Organizational Success | Chief of Staff


    With over a decade serving alongside top executives at global Fortune 500 and privately held companies as their trusted business partner and advisor, I provide strategic support for all operational efforts to relieve them of administrative functions, allow them to focus on strategic and tactical responsibilities, and achieve key business outcomes. The following are highlights of the value I’ve brought to organizations: Developed and lead and partnered with C-level executives to design and execute company-wide strategic initiatives, including working with department leaders to define, manage, and track their priorities. On-dollar projects, including new space build-outs, flagship events, and multiple-day offsite events to create team cohesion. Researched, prepared, and coordinated corporate communications and marketing programs to build awareness, and collaborated closely with internal and external partners to drive unmatched results. Guided companies towards increasingly sophisticated and effective use of technology, including effective remote work at the onset of COVID-19. Collaborated to produce and write articles, blogs, social media posts, and communications to build both professional and personal brands, increased partnerships, and boost revenue. Served as a Community Relations Strategy Leader for a multi-million-dollar corporation building relationships with 10+ unique nonprofits across the city of Atlanta and galvanizing volunteerism, sustainability, and people-driven community service. Reach out and connect with me here on LinkedIn so we can discuss the challenges you face with managing daily operations. I’d love to show you how I can lend my expertise to help solve them. Strategic Planning | Risk Management and Mitigation | Cross-Functional Leadership | Stakeholder Engagement | Corporate Communications | Project Management | Meeting and Event Management| Policy and Procedure Management | Collaborative Leadership | Workplace Culture | Resource Optimization | Conflict Resolution | Transparent Communications | Business Case Writing | Corporate Social Responsibility | Inclusion and Diversity