I wanted to share a story about my dear friend, Julie. We met five years ago, when we found ourselves on the first day of school, dropping off our girls in Kindergarten. I’m not sure who was more nervous then, the kids or the moms!
Since then, we’ve been “thick as thieves,” as they say. We’ve shared many a laugh… like the time I dragged her to my strip aerobics class and she called me the next day to report that her a** was so sore, she could barely lower herself to the toilet seat. Hey, we’re moms. I know you’ve all done that move… snicker while you can!
We’ve also shared more serious moments, like the time I called her at 5 am saying I was leaving my marriage and needed a place to stay. Or, the day she called and told me that she had tested positive for BRCA1.
BRCA1 (and BRCA2) are tumor suppressor genes. Mutations in these genes are linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. At the time, Julie’s mom had been battling breast and ovarian cancer for ten years already and based on her history, her doctor suggested genetic testing. The results came back positive for her mom. Julie told me, “My mom got cancer when she was 50. I was pushing 40 so I got tested immediately. There was a 50% chance I would have it but I was convinced that I wouldn’t. So when the results came in, I was devastated.”
In 2010, Julie had a total of five surgeries: a double-mastectomy, a hysterectomy, and a series reconstructive surgeries. “The risk for me was 87% chance of breast cancer and a 44% chance of ovarian cancer. Most people have a 1% chance of ovarian cancer. It was a no brainer for me. The decision was clear even before I had the results.”
When Julie and I talked about it then, she was in the middle of the process. She was grappling with losing the parts of herself that made her a woman, saying goodbye even to the possibility of babies, saying goodbye to her period! “I knew I would be scarred. I knew my body would change significantly. But, it’s just who I am… I was done having children. And I didn’t want to live from test to test, every six months.”
It was a life-altering decision for sure… not only physically. Two years after the surgeries, Julie tells me, “I still struggle a little bit with how my body looks. But there are pretty things… little camisoles and stuff. I have not needed hormones so far but I firmly believe that it’s because of the energy work that I did before my surgery and after. I worked with Robyn DeGraff. She coached me to to talk to my body. To thank my uterus for my beautiful children. To ask my body to supply me with the hormones I needed and until now, I haven’t had to take any hormones.”
There were blessings she did not expect. “I got connected to my body in a way I had never been before. I feel calmer. I don’t know if my husband would agree,” Julie says with a burst of raucous laugh. I just love her laugh. “…but I do feel calmer. My periods were getting really bad and really heavy and now, I feel more level-headed. Clearer. I gave away all my tampons and pads and have not looked back!!!”
“It brought us closer, me and my husband. He had to really take care of me — he had to wash my back. He had to take care of everything around the house, the kids… I couldn’t raise my hands over my head for a long time. He was a single parent for almost a month! I don’t know if even he knew he had it in him to be able to do what he did.”
“It brought us closer as a family. We told the kids what was going on. I told my daughter. She was eight. She asked, ‘Can I get this too?’ We were prepared and told her it’s not a childhood cancer” and she was reassured by that.”
Now Julie is very involved in raising awareness for breast and ovarian cancer issues. “My mom felt a lot of guilt for passing the gene on. Part of me is sad about that but the technology just wasn’t there. I feel grateful for knowing. I want that and more for future generations. Hopefully soon, we’ll have even more options for treatment and prevention.”
Next weekend, I’m going to the 4th Annual Rise n’ Shine 108 Sun Salutations for A Cure in Forest Park (St. Louis, MO). The focus of the event is to raise awareness among women since it benefits St. Louis Ovarian Cancer Awareness (SLOCA).
So come? You don’t have to be a yoga enthusiast! Whether you do 1 sun salutation, or all 108, you will carry home positive energy by attending this event. Twelve yoga instructors will individually guide participants through nine series of the yoga postures that make up the sun salutation.
Dr. Andrea R. Hagemann, M.D. from the Division of Gyncologic Oncology at Washington University will be speaking briefly.
Cost: $35 before July 21 if you register online at www.sloca.org or $40 on event day. And for our moms who can’t join, I just want to leave you with some great advice from Julie:
“Women need to be self-advocates for themselves. Be aware of the early signs of ovarian cancer. And if you have to make ANY big decision, don’t rush. Take the time to figure out how you really feel. My doctor suggested this: wake up every day for a week and tell yourself you are going to have the surgery and see how you feel every time you think about it. The next week, tell yourself every day that you are NOT going to have the surgery and see how you feel. Then decide.”
Early detection for ovarian cancer is key. So make sure you have regular check-ups and see your doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms abdominal swelling or bloating, pelvic pressure or abdominal pain, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and/or urinary symptoms — having to go urgently of often.
photo credit: stock xchng