This entry was written by Diane LeBleu of Austin. Diane lives with her husband Tom of 18 years and their four children Danielle (13), Travis (11), Sabrina (6) and Caroline (5). She is was diagnosed with Stage 2 invasive breast cancer in December 2008, six years after her twin sister’s diagnosis and three years after they lost their aunt to a breast cancer recurrence.
Growing up with a twin sister, there are always the inevitable comparisons. Denise was the pretty one. I was the smart(er) one. Denise was a go-along-get-along girl. I was a little more, well, bossy is probably the nicest word. As a parent now, my husband and I try not to make similar comparisons. However, it is hard to restrain from making observations about the amazing way that children born to the same parents and raised in the same environment can turn out so remarkably different.
In addition to being the assertive one between me and Denise, I always assumed I was the courageous one. Denise was timid and more of a follower. It turns out I was wrong.
Denise was diagnosed with breast cancer when we were only 33. She was the first person I ever knew to get breast cancer or any cancer for that matter. Breast cancer wasn’t something you get in your 30s. Denise bravely faced a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation all the while working full-time and coming home to her family at the end of the day. Denise was in San Antonio and I was living in Austin; therefore, my help consisted mostly of prayer and encouraging phone calls as I was home with my own young children.
My ‘This is Cancer’ phone call came as NO surprise when I was diagnosed at age 39. Upon Denise’s diagnosis in 2003, her doctor encouraged her to enroll in a new test that would see if she carried ‘the breast cancer gene.’ Curiously or not, my twin and I share the same exact mutation in our BRAC1 gene. The fact that we were both in our thirties when our cancer was detected tells us that our mutation may be pretty significant.
In the meantime, on the heels of my twin’s diagnosis at age 33, I immediately went to see my OB/GYN to make sure I was on the schedule for regular mammograms. I was doing diligent self-exams to identify any lumps – as my sister had found with her Stage 2 diagnosis. At that time, we didn’t really discuss undergoing a gene test in my case. I did everything I was supposed to be doing in the matter of due diligence – I still got breast cancer.
I hoped I had a long life ahead of me – so I decided to let my surgeon ‘take it all.’ I knew that Denise was still undergoing a mammogram or MRI every six months as she held her breath as the doctor would hopefully give her an “all clear.” I wanted to live – but not that way.
I’m nearly three years out from my surgery and treatment. I had my ovaries removed to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer. I’m told by my friends and family that they admire me for my courage and ability to smile and laugh throughout my breast cancer experience. I was reacting in the only way I could weighing two options – Deal with this for me and my family? – Or – Wait for cancer to come back?
My sister – the one I thought that I had the leg up on for bravery – decided to undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy followed by a hysterectomy and ovary removal. This to me is the epitome of courage. Some people would look at her and say, “Well, you are a seven-year-survivor, you don’t need to do that! What a crazy, paranoid woman.”
My genetic make-up is now in my four children. My children will be sooner, rather than later, at an age when they will be the owners of their health maintenance. My daughters may or may not have this mutation (my son as well, because men CAN get breast cancer too) and what will I tell them? “Don’t wait to get cancer. Take it all before you are faced with a short list of chemo and radiation options.”
The thing I CAN tell them is this. “Do those self-exams, be self -aware and if anything suspicious turns up, don’t be too afraid, ashamed, busy, or even financially unable to get it checked out. You won’t be sorry you asked the question of your medical professionals.”
Of this, I AM certain.
When not blogging about motherhood and breast cancer, Diane is busy launching her product for those who have undergone breast surgery. Her new product, Pink Pockets, is designed to solve the uncomfortable problem of drains after surgery.
Join Diane for LBBC’s Fall Conference – News You Can Use: Breast Cancer Updates for Living Well. Fee waivers are still available! Diane is looking forward to attending the New Insights into Triple-Negative Breast Cancer and Genetics workshop. This workshop will explore the connection between BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations and triple-negative breast cancer.
For more information about the conference and the workshops, visit LBBC’s website.