A Different Type of Survivor

Patricia Brett Patricia Brett, designer and founder of Veronica Brett, a luxury line of swimwear made specifically for women with breast cancer and those who have had risk-reducing mastectomies, will be blogging throughout the summer for LBBC  about her history with breast cancer and giving tips on how to enjoy the warmer months and feel sexy on the beach. Here, as an introduction, she shares her story about testing positive for the BRCA1 gene in conjunction with a significant family history of breast cancer.

I’m not a breast cancer survivor. I’ve never had breast cancer and I hope and pray I never hear the words “You have cancer”.

Yet for someone who has never been diagnosed with breast cancer I certainly have some pretty significant scars across the middle of my chest. Why? I’m a “previvor”.

Like Angelina Jolie and so many courageous, yet unknown women before her, I elected to remove my breasts to save my life.

At the time of my risk-reducing bilateral mastectomy back in January 2003 (has it really been 10 years?) people thought I was nuts. They didn’t understand why a woman with “healthy breasts” would ever have them removed. Healthy is a relative term.

When I was a kid growing up, I lost three aunts to breast cancer. I always thought it was some type of pollution in the water or the land back in Ohio where my father and his family were raised. By the time I was 18 he had lost three of his six sisters to breast cancer.

It turns out it wasn’t the water but the genes that contributed to their cancers. As Angelina referred to them in her NY Times Op Ed piece when she became public about her surgery, “faulty genes”. For me the faulty gene has a name: BRCA1, and the mutation has a number: Q1200X.

Like survivors who know the specifics of their diagnosis (stage 1, ER+, HER2-) I know my number, Q1200X. It’s that specific mutation on that particular gene that gave me an 85% chance of getting breast cancer and a 55% risk of ovarian cancer.

But it wasn’t the gene alone. What also contributed to my risk was family history. Not only did I loose three aunts to breast cancer, my sister and many first cousins have been diagnosed with breast cancer. In total honesty I have now lost count, but the actual number is something greater than six. One cousin has also been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Fortunately for us, all have survived.

So yes, the breast went in 2003, the ovaries back in 2007 (a significantly harder surgery than I ever imagined, story to be told at another time).

And now, I call myself a “previvor”, a person who has survived the increased risk of inherited breast or ovarian cancer, a term coined by FORCE, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, a group dedicated to providing information to women at risk of these cancers.

I’ve never called myself a “survivor”. I don’t know what it means to hear those words or to face that diagnosis. Yet so many women I have met over the years say I am a survivor. When I attended my first “young survivor” conference (now known as C4YW) in Jacksonville in 2008, they told me I was a survivor. “You’ve had four surgeries in two years and a double mastectomy, of course you’re a survivor!” I was told by one amazing young woman sporting her multi colored leis indicating her status as a five-year breast cancer survivor.

I can’t possibly imagine what it is like to learn you have cancer and I believe I have done everything I can to make certain I never hear the words “you have cancer” (full disclosure- I could still cut out the red meat and get more exercise!)

But I will never call myself a survivor. Out of respect to all the women and men who wear that mantle, I will always stay the simple “previvor”.

You’ll hear from me from time to time as I have been invited to blog for LBBC.

I’ll be sharing my story, along with fashion tips on surviving beautifully including some posts dedicated to swimwear for survivors. If you have questions for me or suggestions for blogs, I can be reached at: pbrett@veronicabrett.com

Stay healthy and sexy-


Patricia Brett is the Founder & Designer of Veronica Brett, the first luxury collection of swimwear created especially for breast cancer survivors. After loosing three aunts to breast cancer, watching her sister battle the disease, and having her own bilateral mastectomy, Patricia created Veronica Brett to empower women to look and feel their best again.  Patricia has been profiled in O, The Oprah Magazine, Harper’s BAZAAR, CNNMoney.com, ABC evening news, as well as numerous fashion publications. She has a Master of Architecture from Yale University and resides in Manhattan with her husband and son.

9 thoughts on “A Different Type of Survivor

  1. I can’t blame you. I, as a survivor, am one of a few people in my support group who don’t like the term “survivor.” We prefer the term “conqueror!” Best of luck to you, previvor! PS – I like the cross-back tankini, but it’s sold out.

  2. JIMMY TO PATRICIA Brett: Do you think Times have changed so much that the term Breast Cancer is treated as a common illness that so much is about it, It gets loss in the media. I mean take for instance, “ANN JILLIAN” and up becoming Big Time Star, then ( double masectomy) Movie career over, no producer, screenwriter or T.V.show wanted her. And she still had all the talent she always had after the surgery. So, I think that Veronica Brett what previvors needed for a long, long time. If not so much the vanity than the normalcy of fitting in to today’s job market, dating scene and just socializing. I think Mrs. Brett, Veronica Brett will be just what people with Breast Cancer is what is neededto l Live Beyond Cancer. Thank You from myself and Family. Sincerely, James F. Lanzetta

  3. As a newly diagnosed breast cancer patient myself (March 2013, Aggressive/Invasive Stage 1, ER positive carcinoma) I can only admire Patricia Brett for her incredibly courageous action in having a double mastectomy as a preventative measure. I don’t know that I even as a current survivor, could take this huge precautionary measure. I underwent a lumpectomy to remove cancerous tumor and I am currently undergoing radiation treatment & taking Arimidex for precautionary measures. FYI – my margins and lymph nodes were both clear of any cancer cells. I was on the borderline for needing chemotherapy & I opted out of chemo due to statistics for my cancer: only 2 out of 100 women are well served by chemo treatment. I do however, have a 23% chance of the cancer returning & thus the chemo may have been a good idea. However, chemo is almost deadly in itself & I would only choose to do this if it were to guarantee saving my life. I also probably should have gone with the double mastectomy for better prevention, but again statistics on my cancer swayed me otherwise. I was shown in writing that 75 out of 100 women with my type cancer who only chose to do the lumpectomy were still alive and cancer free 10 years later! Therefore, I feel I am already taking extra measures with radiation and hormone treatment pills for 10 years. With all this said, I still live with an inkling of worry that my cancer may return & it could be deadly on its next visit. All I can say is that I put my faith in the Lord and modern medical sciences to help me once again should cancer rear its ugly head in my life again. So I applaud any and all women who opt up front to take the most drastic measures to try and sidestep cancer ever visiting their bodies . . . these women are true heroes of our time & one of which I wish I could be, but simply cannot bring myself to do. Hats off to Patricia Brett and all other women like her.

  4. To Mrs. Rene Snyder: My mom had a lumpectomy , partial hysterectomy, including an ovary where a cancer cell broke off from the lump in her breast, but She lives today at 95 yrs. Old. However, Keep getting checked out for the lymph nodes and stomach. As well as mammograms( including self- exams) b/c just when thinkyou have the odds or chances of it returning it does. My Mom’s DID NOT RETURN and I consider that to be very slim as of 98 out of 100. She never drank or smoked. When she had that surgery about the early 1950’s. They didn’t have many alternative meds or surgical options, however, and I’m not trying to persuade you in either way. Do what you think is best for yourself. Maybe, you’ll be blessed as she was. Only God knows. Jimmy L.

  5. Thank you very much for sharing your story 🙂 I too call myself a Previvor I carry the BRCA 2 . I also went through double mastectomy on 8/9/13 still under breast reconstruction. Honestly for me it continues to be very emotional. Looking at my scars and hving no feeling (still hve the expanders) really brings me to tears. But I know all this is worth it!! Thanks again for sharing because with all these sleepless nights reading blogs like yours is what keep me going &know everything is gonna be alright.:)

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