In February of this year, I received the news that I had tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. If that sounds like a foreign language to you, don’t worry…I’ll explain. Maybe it rings a bell when I say “breast cancer gene”? Or remind you of years ago when Angelina Jolie publicly underwent a preventive double mastectomy due to her genetic risk of breast cancer?
Here’s the basics: everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. These are fixer genes that work to prevent you from getting certain cancers (mainly breast and ovarian, but also pancreatic and melanoma). Well, my BRCA2 gene is broken, mutated. That means it can’t do it’s job to keep my body from getting cancer. So I have a 75% risk of developing breast cancer, a 12% risk of developing ovarian cancer, and an elevated but still low risk of melanoma an pancreatic cancer. Awesome, right? (insert heavy sarcasm)
Obviously the breast cancer risk is the highest. One of my options was to be very proactive and diligent about screenings – go to the doctor every six months for physical exams, mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs. This is on top of the every six months I need to get my ovaries scanned and blood work done to assess that risk. And the yearly skin checks at my dermatologist and yearly pancreatic MRI.
My other option to address my breast cancer risk was to have a preventive double mastectomy, taking my risk of cancer from 75% to around 1%. This is the option I chose on July 25th of this year.
Apart from when I had each of my three children, I’ve never needed to be on the receiving end of major help. Suddenly I found myself organizing childcare for my boys, deciding the dates I wanted to sign up for a meal train, lining up grocery pick ups and errands to be run. When you’re the mom, you are the one making all these plans and decisions for other people. You’re the helper. Switching to the role of “helpee” was harder than I anticipated, solely due to my own mama-pride, not due to anyone’s lack of wanting to help me.
My surgery entailed a 3 night hospital stay, one week of being pretty useless at home, and then a few more weeks of modified activity – including lifting my nearly 30 pound toddler (you can read a full recap of my surgery and recovery here). The offers for tangible help came from every direction I could imagine. Family and my closest friends, of course, but also church friends, old high school and college friends, people I’d only just recently met, people I hadn’t even met in real life and solely through my blog and social media. Friends helped shuffle kids to and from school and had them over to play. My and my husband’s families took turns keeping kids so I had time to heal and rest. Hot meals and freezer meals came in for a few weeks post-surgery. I even had a friend from out of state have a meal delivered to our house!
My friends visited, brought flowers, took me to get my nails done, and took me to the movies – all the things I needed to step back into feeling like a normal person and not a patient.
Family and friends loved on my kiddos so that this time of their mom being in the hospital and healing wasn’t scary for them. I think they’ll look back and remember the fun adventures and sleep overs they got to have for a few weeks that summer. They’ll remember flowers in the house and extra yummy dinners (with dessert!).
Sometimes your spouse gets lost in the shuffle, with everyone taking care of you and making sure the kids are covered. It was so special to see my husband’s friends step in and check on him, take him out for a beer, sit with him at the hospital while he waited for me during surgery, come hang out with me at the hospital so he could go home and shower and see our kids.
Having all these tangible needs met was also a huge help to me emotionally. The encouragement and the prayers came pouring in along with the meals. My people gave me space to feel what I needed to feel. The emotional healing for a surgery like this was and is difficult (I shared a lot more about that in this post on my blog). I couldn’t have done it without those in my life giving me space and grace to be sad when I needed to, but also pulling me out of that rut to go do something that would make me smile.
Meals delivered, hands held, prayers spoken over me, and words of encouragement offered to me. All of those things have been so life-giving in a difficult season. I’ve gotten to see the body of Christ, my village, at work in a whole new way this year. People have acted as the hands and feet and heart of Jesus for me and my family, and I will forever be grateful. This is how we were designed – to walk alongside one another in highs and lows, bearing one another’s burdens and celebrating one another’s victories and joys.
I’ve written fairly extensively about my entire journey through all of this on my blog, so head to this link to check out those posts, including FAQs about BRCA and preventive mastectomy, and the full story of how and why I got tested and my initial reaction.
Author : Hannah Lugibihl
Hannah is the wife of her college sweetheart Jonathan and mom of three boys – Evan, Porter, and Gibson. She is the face behind Cold Coffee Hot Mess a blog that encourages other women, especially mamas, about living authentically. “Real life talk for real life moms” is her motto, and she strives to provide a space for others to do just that. She is also an artist, meaning most days you’ll find her with paint covered hands as she creates art inspired by light and nature. Follow along with her daily life on Instagram @coldcoffeehotmess