I Had a Mastectomy at 23
Giving up her breasts after testing positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation has given her a whole new outlook on life and her health
-Lindsay Avner, Bright Pink
At the age of 23 I had a mastectomy. And it wasn’t because I found a lump in my breast. It was because I wanted to ensure that I would never find a lump in my breast. My grandmother and great grandmother died a week apart, both from breast cancer at the ages of 39 and 58, respectively. When I was 12, my mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer and 10 months later with ovarian cancer.
To say that these diseases have always been a part of my life is an understatement. While most middle-school-aged kids were riding bikes and playing with friends after school, I would rush home and drop my backpack and childhood at the door to help care for my mom, clean the house and take care of my 3-year-old brother.
In May 2005, I was faced with an opportunity that generations before me were not afforded. I underwent a genetic test that told me I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, placing me at up to an 87 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer and up to a 54 percent lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer.
This was not the easiest news to be given when you are 22 and just starting your life. Originally, I decided to enroll in a high-risk screening program, but even with the best tools out there I felt as though I was just waiting to catch cancer instead of doing something to actually prevent it.
Just 15 months later at age 23, I made a very personal decision to remove my healthy breasts in order to reduce my risk for developing breast cancer from up to 87 percent to less than 1 percent. I was the youngest patient at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in New York to make such a decision.
It was not a decision I made lightly. At the time, I was single and wondered how I would bring up the topic of this decision on a first date or what would happen the first time my shirt came off with a new guy I started seeing. Would I feel like a woman? Would I ever feel “whole” again? I wish I could say that I felt strong and confident going into the surgery, but I was absolutely terrified.