She carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation which predisposes you to multiple cancers at a young age. Remember Angelina Jolie’s announcement in 2013? She had the same thing, however the difference is Angelina Jolie was appropriately informed of her risk, which allowed her to take action and ensure she wouldn’t die of cancer.
Today, this is something that is considered standard of care — to test for these hereditary cancer syndromes — because if you do in fact carry one, there is something you can do to prevent getting cancer (or at least find it in an early, more treatable stage). My Mom however, was not tested until it was too late. She was not told that that breast cancer in your family, on the maternal or paternal side, under the age of 50 qualified her for genetic testing. If she had been tested — she would be here today.
Before she died, she asked me to get tested. And after having to advocate for myself and demand testing, I too tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. I had two breast lumps at the time, that had not gone away, and after fighting to get them looked at, they were found to be pre-cancerous. After consulting with physicians, family, and friends, I made the decision to remove my breasts with a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy to ensure my fate would not be the same as my mother’s. Four days after my surgery, I was called with my pathology report. I was positive for breast cancer. I was 23 years old.
WHEN I MADE THE DECISION TO HAVE MY SURGERY, I WAS MET WITH RAMPANT CRITICISM AND DESTRUCTIVE OPINIONS:
You are too young.
You are too emotional.
You are being too dramatic.
That is too drastic.
And my favorite: You will never be attractive to a man because removing your breasts will make you less of a woman.
Four years post surgery, and I love my body more than I ever have. In fact, I feel more feminine, more sexy, stronger, and more like a woman. It didn’t happen over night. And I still have a long way to go, but I am so incredibly proud of myself, the woman I have become, and my body. Why? Because I took action! A woman’s intuition is not a myth — I knew, deep inside of me, that something was up. And against all odds — naysayers, fear, cost of surgery, and more — I saved my life.
SO, AM I STILL A WOMAN WITHOUT BREASTS?
Add on the fact that I have to remove my ovaries and tubes pretty soon. So then, what’s left? Am I still a woman if I don’t have breasts or any reproductive organs?
This obviously begs the question: What makes a woman?
“Woman” or “female” in the dictionary is defined as, “Of or denoting the sex that can bear offspring or produce eggs, distinguished biologically by the production of gametes (ova) which can be fertilized by male gametes.” According to this definition, my ability to produce eggs distinguishes me and makes me a woman. But what if I was born unable to produce eggs? Would I still be a woman?
Are we the physical features and organs, the look, the feel, and the touch associated with a woman. Or, are we more?
We ARE MORE.
We are MORE than a shape, photo, or stigma.
We are MORE than a housewife, stereotype, expected fixture.
We are MORE than a vessel. More than a donor. More than an action. More than an expectation.
In fact, we ARE the action.
WHAT MAKES US STAND OUT, WHAT MAKES US WOMAN, IS OUR ABILITY TO TRANSCEND BARRIERS.
Our willingness to sacrifice…ALL…for the betterment of others — our children, friends, family, a stranger. Our dedication and devotion to what we care about. The fact that every woman — despite race, geography, status — is at her core, a caregiver. When someone is in trouble, needs help, or is hurting — we infiltrate. At our core, we are caretakers. Whether you are a dog, partner, child, or friend. If there is a problem — we gather the troops and we will solve it. We are self-less and we take action. It is easier to put ourselves on the line, than it is others.
SO WHAT MAKES ME A WOMAN?
The fact that I took action. The fact that I “mothered” myself. The fact that I fought for a cause, the cause of my health and life. I didn’t take “no” for an answer. I felt, in my body, something was wrong, and created, no, demanded, change. As a single, millennial woman, living in urban United States, I said, “No. I will not accept the status quo. No. I will not ignore how I feel. And yes. my feelings are valid.”
That is the definition of a woman. That is who we are. We are conquerers.
So, how do I embrace my femininity today? Honestly, I have no idea. I wish I could say that I do this or do that, but really, I am a work in progress. Really, it is hard to be a woman. And really, I am constantly on the look out for ways I can take care of myself and express who I am as a woman. There are things I do that definitely make me feel more feminine — most recently I purchased a vintage French silk chemise and when I looked in the mirror, I said, “I look like a million bucks.” And that is how I felt — strong, beautiful, influential, and sexy.
We need more of that.
What I know for sure, is that I am strong. Stronger than I ever could have conceived. And when we, as women, come together, we are unconquerable. When we, as women, face challenges — we put them under our feet.