Every day we are faced with hundreds of choices. Should I hit snooze? What should I wear to work? What am I going to eat for breakfast? The list goes on and on. While some choices are trivial, others map the course of our lives. The news we received last November led to many choices that changed our lives forever.
Upon arriving to the hospital, the first choice Ann and I made was where to sit in the waiting room. We decided to sit facing the large flat screen tv on the wall, hoping it would distract us from the anxiety we were feeling. The TV was tuned to HGTV. We laughed about the fact that the couple on the show couldn’t decide on which million-dollar home to buy because neither of them were “perfect.” Meanwhile, we were sitting in a room full of women who were patiently waiting for life changing news. Some women were there to see if their cancer had spread, some were there for their annual check-ups, and some, like Ann, were there to see if they were carriers of a genetic mutation.
When we heard Ann’s name called, we were ushered into a room with a beautiful view of the woods. We were able to take a second to hold hands and take in the beautiful fall scenery. The leaves were starting to change to colors of auburn and yellow, reminding us of new beginnings. A knock on the door quickly brought us back to reality. We sat at the small round table that was home to support group pamphlets and tissues. The only thing that was missing was a poster of a kitten dangling from a wire, reading, “Hang in there.”
The words came out so clear and crisp, “AnnMarie, you are a carrier of the BRCA 2 genetic mutation.” While Ann remained stoic, I reached for the box of tissues before the doctor was even able to get out another word. We learned that as a carrier of this gene, Ann’s risk of developing breast cancer increased by 85% and her risk of ovarian cancer doubled.
For Ann, the decision was easy. After watching her mother endure ovarian cancer, not once but twice, she was willing to take extreme proactive measures. When we got home that day, she was on the phone scheduling her oophorectomy. If you know Ann, you know that she would absolutely not allow a genetic mutation decide the fate of her life.
A few months after healing from the oophorectomy, it was time for Ann to decide if she was going to undergo a double mastectomy. Ann worried about the risks associated with the surgery. She also worried about not being able to work out. During the consult with the reconstruction doctor, her very first questions was, “If I have this surgery, will I be able to do push-ups again?” The doctor was in shock, as no one had ever asked him that question before.
With no surprise, Ann decided to have the double-mastectomy with reconstruction. The road to recovery was tough, but it was made easier with our family, friends, and Bellum community behind us. Especially helpful was our friend, Kelly Cook, who had recently received news of a breast cancer diagnosis. She was Ann’s inspiration and guide on this journey. We are forever grateful.
While Ann’s mother dealt with feelings of guilt for passing on this gene, we knew it was a blessing to have this information. This gene gave Ann the gift of choosing her own fate. Ann was back in the gym within three weeks, modifying work outs and defying odds. She chose not to let the gene and her surgeries dictate her life. The choice of taking preventative measures to avoid cancer led to so many more life changing choices. I am forever grateful that Ann decided to go through with the preventative surgeries. I hope that her story can inspire you to make changes in your life.
Written Nov. 15, 2016
“Many of the choices we make every day are arbitrary and may not even register as choices at the time. In reality, we are faced with choices every minute. Every now and again, mixed in with the mundane, are big choices. Making a decision is often hard because if you choose a certain way, while you may benefit, you may also lose something just the same. I have a choice, and the choice is hard. I must choose if I want surgery. If I get surgery, it is going to be challenging, but it will significantly reduce my chances of cancer. If I opt out of surgery and end up with cancer, I would never forgive myself. Even though the decision is hard, I am lucky enough to HAVE the choice. This is a privilege not given to all. I get to choose my course of action, my outlook and my reaction.” -Ann
The choices Ann made not only affected her, but also everyone who loves her. Her choices ensure that she will be here for all of us, without the fear of cancer taking her too soon. If there is one thing we can learn from Ann, it is that we can make choices to improve our lives. There are many ways we can prevent common illness and disease that plague our country. We know the risks of smoking, but it’s still a common habit. We all know there is a link between sugar and diabetes, but soda is still in school vending machines. We’ve all read how exercising can prevent cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure, but we get stuck in the cycle of putting it off until the perfect time. What are we waiting for? While we may or may not know what health aliments we are predisposed for, it’s time to take action and choose healthier habits. We all have people counting on us to be around, and the decisions we make will ultimately affect them as well. Eating better, getting adequate sleep, moving more, and meditating are all proven ways to improve the quality and length of our lives.
The choice is ours.