Chapter Three: Breast Cancer ACTION Month
This month we're re-publishing the incredible story of Janine, a lifelong endurance athlete, mother of three, and two-time breast cancer survivor. Janine's message during Breast Cancer Awareness Month: "Awareness is good. Action is better."
In 2011 I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). Eight years later I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer (TNBC). The same breast, the same decade, two different strains of breast cancer.
Following my first diagnosis I wasn’t aware of testing for additional risk factors, including the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Very occasionally, it infuriates me that I didn’t get screened in 2011. A screening at that time would have shown I had a BRCA2 gene mutation associated with breast cancer risk. By knowing, I would have taken measures that may have prevented my second diagnosis, and I believe there’s a chance I could have avoided unnecessarily exposing parts of my body to radiation.
There’s a term called ‘radical acceptance’ that really helps me manage those moments. You have to accept things that you have no control over, and do the best with what you have.
My version of doing my best is to motivate women to take action for their health. It’s not enough to be aware. You must make the space and time in your life for regular medical screenings, especially mammograms. Learning about warning signs and symptoms from your doctor is also a great actionable measure.
Following my 2019 diagnosis, my surgeon suggested removing only the affected breast. That did not make sense to me. I wanted both breasts removed. I didn’t want to risk a third occurrence of breast cancer, and my thought was that by removing both I could further reduce my risk. Speaking up and advocating for yourself can be very intimidating, but in doing so I got a very important test.
A few weeks before my surgery I was finally eligible for genetic testing, and that is when I learned I had the BRCA2 mutation. As the CDC explains, a double mastectomy (removing both breasts) is part of the most effective recommendation for this condition, so my surgeon and I were now on the same page. We were removing both.
I loved my breasts. I thought they looked great, they fed my kids, and I felt they fit my frame perfectly. So at first I was very open to the reconstruction option.
After consulting with a plastic surgeon, I declined breast reconstruction. I had no idea how many subsequent surgeries and procedures were involved following a double mastectomy. I learned it was a lot more involved than a breast augmentation procedure, and I really wanted to move on with my life. It was the right choice for me.
I simply wanted to heal and focus on thriving.
I think our society is very uncomfortable with women without breasts. The choice about whether or not to have reconstructive breast surgery is very personal. No matter what route a woman chooses, the presence or absence of breasts does not dictate her worth as a person.
Please know that women facing this decision are bombarded by beauty standards and expectations from all angles, which often feels dehumanizing. Let me offer you my perspective.
If someone came to me and said “We’re so sorry. You have body parts that are diseased, and we have to remove two of them from your body.”
Well, let’s take stock of what I have two of. I don’t want to part with my strong arms that have pulled me through countless hours in the pool. I don’t want to lose my two eyes that have witnessed amazing experiences. I would hate to part with my two thumbs that help me write this story I’m sharing with you now. If I had to part with two of any part of my body, my boobs would be the first to go!
I respect every woman’s decision about whether or not to pursue breast reconstruction post-double mastectomy. But it is her choice, and whatever choice a woman chooses is the right choice.
Breast cancer awareness looks like a lot of things. In my world, it looks like me, with no breasts and a scar from armpit to armpit, walking around in a bathing suit with nothing but gratitude for the life ahead of me.
Next week: in the final installment of Breast Cancer ACTION month, Janine talks about how she would like to shape the future of Breast Cancer Awareness. “I think there are a lot of well-intentioned messages that don’t land. We need a more action-oriented message to ensure women feel empowered in their health."
The information and content provided in this blog post are not intended and should not be construed as medical advice, nor is the information a substitute for professional medical expertise or treatment. If you or any other person has a medical concern, you should consult with your health care provider or seek other professional medical treatment.