*Lindsay’s Note: This is a guest post written by Pam Kobylarz Heays. Pam is a very close friend of mine who recently went through some health challenges and has written about them in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Pam and her husband Julian live in Mammoth Lakes, CA and they are AWESOME. In their free time they enjoy snowboarding, football, reggae music, hiking, international travel, and hanging with their cats, Layla and Sharkbait.
By now you all probably know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – yes, we’re at the very end of the month, but hey, it’s still October. To me, part of being Fit and Awesome, in addition to eating well and exercise, is being proactive about your health. According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 in 8 (12%) women in the US will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime and breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in women (exceeded only by lung cancer). At this time there are more than 2.8 million breast cancer survivors in the United States. These are pretty big numbers ladies!
In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’ve decided to share my story about breast cancer and why it is a cause that is important to me. I have always known that breast cancer runs in my family, on both sides of the family. My grandmother died of breast cancer when I was very young, and two of my aunts on the other side of the family are breast cancer survivors. Each year I would talk to my doctor about this, and I was told that I am still too young to start getting mammograms, but we would start when I turn 35 as a precaution.
Earlier this year I became more aware of the gene mutation, BRCA, which gives its carriers an almost 90% chance of getting breast cancer and approximately 45% chance of ovarian cancer in their lifetime. You may have heard of BRCA before. This is what Angelina Jolie has and was the reason behind her decision to get a preventative double mastectomy. Learning about this gene mutation prompted me to talk to my dad about it, and it turns out that the BRCA gene runs in our family. I learned that the cancer history going back a generation on that side of the family is sobering, to say the least. I told my doctor about this, and we decided I should get tested for the gene.
The test for BRCA is painless – all you do is you swish some mouthwash around in your mouth and then it gets shipped off to the lab. However, it can be expensive, so insurance companies will typically only cover it if there is strong evidence you could be at risk. I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. This led to numerous follow-up tests that were uncomfortable and invasive, and after a lot of poking, probing, and prodding, the good news is that all of my test results were completely normal and I currently have no signs of cancer! I will continue to be tested and monitored every few months, so if any signs of cancer do turn up, we’ll catch it very early.
Going through all the testing was scary and stressful, but I’m glad I made the decision to get tested, because now I can make informed decisions about my health and my future that I may not have done otherwise. My husband and I always thought starting a family was something we’d figure out later on, but finding this out made us think about it sooner. The best way to reduce your cancer risk with this gene is to get preventative surgery, like Angelina Jolie did, and this is something I will consider in the future.
I decided to share this story in the hopes that it may inspire someone else to become more informed and proactive about their family medical history. I’m not suggesting you all go out and ask your doctor to get tested for BRCA – that wouldn’t be appropriate. But, whether it is breast cancer, or something else, these things can be very personal, and many people often feel uncomfortable sharing and discussing them. I encourage you all to not be afraid to talk about it with your family members and your doctors to make sure you are doing all you can to stay healthy, fit, and awesome!