It’s hard to put myself in “her” head. It’s hard to fully empathize. My parents are still alive. I did watch my paternal grandmother go through breast cancer and a subsequent mastectomy, but I was about 13 and fairly detached from the situation. But I’ve seen the pain and fear in her eyes. I know that what she experienced with her mother was horrifying for her, and I know that her biggest fear now is watching her kids experience the same trauma of watching their parents suffer. That is the fuel that I use.
To be clear, I’ve had a lot of time to prepare for this. We found out that Heather was BRCA1+ shortly after our oldest child was born. Around 10 years ago. At the time there were options for mastectomy, but nothing was clear about reconstruction. Honestly I don’t recall the options that were presented, but I do remember that we considered them, and we also knew we wanted to have more children. (Two girls later we now also have two future BRCA1 tests yet to be taken, but that will be a future chapter.) After several years of delays, here we are.
Coincidently Angelina Jolie had a preventive mastectomy recently. The publicity certainly made it easier to explain when people asked what Heather was having done. “She’s having the Angelina surgery.” They didn’t know that we had been planning this for nearly a decade, and that’s ok. Angelina going public brought awareness to the BRCA mutations. Before that, most people’s eyes just glossed over when we talked about it.
|Three reasons for her "why"|
Let’s be honest here. As Heather has admitted in her blog, she’s excessively Type A. She did 99% of the planning and work leading up to to the actual surgery. I made some calls for insurance, and I booked the car and part of our lodging for the month, but she did all of the hard work. She worked tirelessly with PRMA to ensure everything was in place. She followed their instructions to a tee, including cutting out Starbucks and the occasional after-work glass of wine, during some of the most stressful weeks we can remember. She even worked to finish a lifelong dream of finishing a children’s book to help small kids and parents communicate with each other about going through cancer. Amazing, right? So before I say anything about how much I did to support her, I want to make it clear that it’s easy to support a woman who is incredibly strong. And if you’re reading this, considering this decision for yourself and thinking that maybe you couldn’t be as strong as Heather, maybe one of my favorite quotes can help you.
“Courage is not the absence of fear. Courage is action in the presence of fear.”
Just choosing to go through with this surgery is a huge showing of strength and courage. There was a LOT of fear here for Heather, but not more than leaving our kids behind too soon. And to reiterate, this decision isn’t about us. It’s about taking steps within our control to limit the possibility of our kids losing their mother the same way she lost hers.