Should I chop my tits off?

Sorry to startle, but this is a serious question. I moved closer to making a decision today when I booked a Hertz hire car online. I chose a small hatchback, an economy car. I also discussed it with my friend Kirsty. We sat outside for a little while on the low brick wall attended by two Labradors. After these exertions, I took a nap. There is part of me (the part of me that can’t pass the couch without an overwhelming desire to sink into it) that wants to shut my eyes and wake up at some point in the future – next June, say. I used to be good at sleeping on long-haul flights without the aid of tablets or alcohol. I’d just coax myself into sleep and get rid of the hours. So I think I’d do quite well at sleeping until next June. If not continuous sleep, at least a sort of gliding in and out of sleep, getting up from time to time for another cup of tea, another magazine, another game of Solitaire on my iPhone, only to snuggle back down into the crochet rugs and shut my eyes. Should I chop my tits off? Let me go back to sleep.

There are arguments for and against the removal of my breasts. On Friday I’m going to drive the Hertz Rentacar to Sydney, to Castle Hill, to see a Dr French in his castle. He is going to show me before and after photographs of double mastectomies. There may even be some during shots. (Let me just have another little rest on the couch.)

In January I discovered I was the carrier of the BRCA1 gene mutation, which gives me a sickening, overwhelming, possibility of breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. This explains why a whole lot of female relatives on my father’s side have succumbed. I was told that ovarian cancer is almost impossible to check for, because by the time it reveals itself, things have generally gone too far. Therefore, said my fleet of doctors and advisers, it’s a no brainer. Your ovaries are ticking time bombs. They’ve got to go.

I had my ovaries out in June, throwing me into instant menopause alleviated by hormone replacement therapy, a process carrying its own bodily weirdnesses. But on the outside, I looked just the same as ever.

But breasts. You can see breasts.

To keep them on is to continue to carry around bodily tissue that is enormously susceptible to cancer. It’s something like 80 per cent for me, compared to about 11 per cent for women in the general population. The odds are not good. But unlike ovarian cancer, breast cancer is eminently treatable. It’s not necessarily a death sentence. I’d probably survive it.

And if I decide to keep my breasts, I can have free checks every six months for the very earliest little wisp or suggestion of cancer.

The thing is, it appears the breast cancer associated with BRCA1 isn’t like common-or-garden breast cancer. It’s a little more evil. So that if you have it at all, even if caught very early, they’ll give you chemotherapy. Chemotherapy is disgusting. It can leave its own trail of health problems. If I actually get breast cancer and go through chemotherapy, will I curse my earlier decision as I vomit and gag?

And what if I’m actually one of the twenty percent who was somehow marked out to defy the odds? What if I have my breasts removed for “nothing”?

I’m aware that these are the “problems” of a healthy person who has the enormous advantage, unlike my female relatives going back through the family tree, of being forewarned. If I actually had cancer, I know everything would look different. I’d do the chemo in a flash, knowing it could save my life. But as a healthy person who has been told it’s all up to me, I’m stuck here amongst all the pros and cons in a state of uncertainty.

 

1 thought on “Should I chop my tits off?

  1. vivienne (@vivchook)

    Hi Tracey – we’ve talked before about this, but now you have given me more info to go on. First – Dr French is very good – I have worked with him in the past, tho I didn’t know he had headed to Sydney. I assume it is the same person….The second is – do your relatives develop so called “Inflammatory Breast Cancer”? I think that is what you allude to. It is a nasty kind, hard to detect early, is diffuse over the whole breast rather than a discrete lump, and is relatively resistant to chemo, but not completely resistant. If that is the case, I’d go for the bilateral mastectomy, with reconstructive surgery. But these are questions for you & your doctor to work through. My heart goes out to you, and I hope you realise how much I admire your bravery and pragmatism. Feel free to email me.. Mwah!

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