It’s the type of thing you don’t really think about unless it affects you or a loved one directly… probably because most of us go through life thinking we’re going to live forever (I know I do). Until we realise we aren’t. Or until it affects Angelina Jolie.
You may have guessed that I am in fact referring to the BRCA1 & 2 genes – a.k.a. the ‘cancer genes’. They are normally responsible for producing a tumour destroying protein, and in their mutated form are unfortunately responsible for well, not producing it – resulting in a highly increased probability of developing breast, uterine, fallopian and ovarian cancer (among many other nasty cancers).
I didn’t have to wait for Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy (removal of both breasts) and more recently, salpingo-oophorectomy (removal of both ovaries and fallopian tubes) to find out about these ‘faulty’ genes and their consequences.
No I don’t have the gene mutation, unfortunately a very dear friend of mine (my soon to be sister-in-law) does. She made the very brave decision to, at the age of 25, get tested to see whether she had inherited this condition. Over the last decade, her mother has suffered (and survived) both breast and uterine cancer and tested positive for the mutated form of the genes. As did my friend. She now faces the very cruel choice of getting her lady bits and plumbing cut out of her sooner rather than later in order to avoid exponentially increased risks of dying from any of the aforementioned cancers. Because this is what we’re talking about by the way, life or death – a risk which is all the more real to her given the fact that she stood by her mother while she fought various cancers linked to these genes.
Here are a few fun facts for those of you who might be interested:
Breast cancer: About 12% of women in the general population will develop breast cancer sometime during their lives. By contrast, according to the most recent estimates, 55 to 65% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and around 45% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop breast cancer by age 70.
Ovarian cancer: About 1.4% of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer sometime during their lives. By contrast, according to the most recent estimates, 39% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation and 11 to 17% of women who inherit a harmful BRCA2 mutation will develop ovarian cancer by age 70 years.
All this to say:
1. Take care of yourselves ladies, that includes feeling yourselves (or getting felt by someone else) for lumps
2. And also looking into your family’s cancer history
3. I was absolutely horrified at some people’s reaction to Angelina Jolie’s decision to getting her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. From accusing her of scaring other women into doing the same, of taking unneeded drastic measures, of being overly cautious and demonising her for speaking up and being an attention seeker…. I’ve face-palmed myself so much reading idiotic comments that I have a permanent hand print on my forehead.
4. Whether women with the gene mutation wish to follow suit or not, at least she may have saved a few lives by raising awareness. And after all that’s said and done, I fully stand by her decision to go for prevention and suffer the consequences (early on-set menopause and fake boobs even though hers were fab) in order to ensure that she can be part of her 5 kids’ future after 8 people in her family died of breast cancer.
5. For some lolz, please follow the link below. My sis-in-law-to-be may have inherited this BRCA mutation, but she also inherited a very sharp mind and tongue (she’s a bit of a legend tbh) – excellent read https://brcaproblems.wordpress.com/2015/03/24/for-anyone-carrying-or-in-anyway-touched-by-brca-mutations/
6. And here’s a bit more info on ‘The Jolie Effect’ for all the haters (not sure I can pull off that expression):