Top photo: Jessica Smith
Center artwork: "World On Her Shoulders" by Eileen Espinosa
Bottom artwork: "BRCA1" by Eileen Espinosa
" Sharing my story, deciding to be proactive, to not live in fear of hereditary cancer thanks to having my ovaries and breasts removed, I feel bold." - Jessica Smith
by Jessica Smith
In 2012, at age 43, I found out that I have the BRCA2 gene mutation, which greatly elevates my risk of getting hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC). Shortly after my mother tested positive with the BRCA2 mutation, I sought genetic counseling and found out that I, too, carry the gene. During the previous ten years, before diagnosis, I was treated for and had undergone various surgeries for gynecological issues.
Like many other women who have long family histories of cancer and who are at risk of HBOC, I felt that my body was a ticking cancer time bomb. Over the next months, I made the decision to move forward with controversial preventative procedures. In January 2013, I had a complete hysterectomy and in August 2013, a preventative bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Through these surgeries, I've lowered my risk of having breast or ovarian cancer from over 85 percent to about a five-percent chance.
After seeing my mother struggle with the side effects of her cancer treatments, I didn't feel as if I had much choice to do anything other than have the preventative surgeries. Something I didn't expect was the tremendous grief, sense of isolation, and chronic pain that followed the surgeries. I found solace in the local chapter of FORCE (Facing Our Risk Of Cancer Empowered), and by connecting with other BRCA carriers through private social media groups.
I've learned that BRCA mutations are directly inherited from a person's mother or father. Each child of a parent who carries this type of gene mutation has a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutation. From my maternal grandmother's medical history, my family has concluded that she carried the BRCA2 mutation. My mother is an 18-year breast cancer survivor and is currently in her fifth year of treatments for recurrent gynecological cancer.
Sharing my story, deciding to be proactive, to not live in fear of hereditary cancer thanks to having my ovaries and breasts removed, I feel bold. I also feel extremely lucky to be a part of the first generation to be presented with such proactive opportunities, which allow a choice of self-care paths.
Jessica Smith is the owner of Regla De Oro-Art Gallery and Fair Trade Gifts in Minneapolis.
September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month and October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. In 2012, Congress designated the last week of September as National Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer week. This year, Wed., Sept. 28 (2016), is National Previvor Day.
IF YOU GO: Jessica Smith is curating an exhibit of work created by local artists affected by HBOC.
A portion of the event sales will be donated to the local chapter of Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE), whose mission is to improve the lives of individuals and families affected by hereditary breast, ovarian and related cancers.
What: The Powerful Journey of Hereditary Cancer
When: Sept. 6-Oct. 30, 2016; Tue.-Fri., 12-7 p.m.; Sat., 11 a.m.-7 p.m.; Sun., 11 a.m.-4 p.m.
Wed., Sept 28, 2016, 4 p.m.-8 p.m., reception for exhibiting artists, their families and the larger community
Where: Regla De Oro, 2743 Lyndale Ave. S., Mpls.
FFI: 612-886-1247 or www.regladeoro.com
For more information about the risks of hereditary Breast and Ovarian cancer, see the FORCE website: www.facingourrisk.org