I'm Wendy Unger, and this is my story, again: it's important for me to tell it every year. It's the holidays, 2009, my sister Nancy has been diagnosed positive with the BRCA1 Breast & Ovarian Cancer gene mutation. Wow! The doctors say that she has to have her ovaries and breasts removed in order to lower her risk of Breast and Ovarian CANCER! This is grossly unpleasant news… Then, the other shoe drops: this thing is hereditary. Each of the other three siblings has to take the test. It’s the holidays; do I have to think about cancer? So, the next step is the test. Being me, I go into it with the idea that it’s just not possible that I could have the gene too. I test, and the results don’t come until January. My test results positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, too, and my husband Seth and I are faced with making a big decision. It’s not intellectually difficult – the oncologist tells you the facts: with the gene, your risk increases from the normal population’s 2-3% to the BRCA’s 85-90% risk.
The difficulty in the decision is the emotional one, you have to decide to have your breasts removed and you find that raises a lot of emotions in both partners. Fortunately, there is support to be found: there are organizations that provide it.
So, we made our decision and 2010 was a year full of hospital and surgery, those that we planned and one surprise. February was the oopherectomy, the removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes. While I was recovering from my first surgery, I had to have emergency spine surgery. I had to spend several months in physical therapy before I could have the next Preventative surgery, the double mastectomy, the removal of my breasts. I had that surgery in July and was lucky enough to have reconstructive surgery at the same time. In my procedure, the physicians and I had chosen to use tissue expanders to help build my new breasts. By November, it was time to have the expanders removed and the implants placed, just the next step in the reconstructive process. Wow, the holidays were upon us again and it was overwhelming to look back at what 2010 had been like for us. But it was not over yet: the reconstructive process continues. On February 2nd, I got my nipples, and then got them tattooed in July. Now, I’ll have to have to be vigilant to watch for cancer signs annually.
· we had been tapped on the shoulder and given a pass on CANCER; I had to have lots of surgery, but no chemotherapy or radiation
·I had been invited to serve on the board of the Miami-Dade unit of the American Cancer Society, something I’d been working towards since 2003
· I had signed up as an Outreach Coordinator with F.O.R.C.E.
· I am helping other people and families with the same issues
Our pastor’s words had really come true for us – in what surely looked like apparent misfortune, we had found our gift. I knew it was my mission to help others with the hereditary cancer gene to handle their future wisely and carefully. And if I think about it now, I know that in helping others, it’s really made it easier for me. If you are a person with cancer, or the hereditary cancer gene and you’re seeking support or information, please contact me at (305) 772-7369.
Wendy Unger, Outreach Coordinator – Miami Dade County, 305-772-7369, or www.facingourrisk.org.com Support hereditary breast and ovarian cancer research!