Shawna Talks About How She Dealt with a BRCA2 Mutation


In April 2010, I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation. I am a mammogram technologist so I have seen firsthand the devastation that breast cancer can<br cause. I have seen patients undergo surgery, radiation therapy and chemotherapy – all in a short span of time. I have witnessed how tough that was, so when<br I tested positive I knew I was going to be proactive. Preventative surgery was the right route for me, absolutely.

Before I go into my surgery experience, perhaps I should give a quick background so that my mindset is a little easier to understand. I graduated high school at age seventeen. Four days later, I started college, graduated at nineteen and was working full time before I graduated. I was married at age twenty. I have been married for almost fifteen years to my high school sweetheart. He is serving Active Duty in the Air Force and has been for our entire marriage. We have survived five deployments together, one of which was three weeks after our youngest daughter was born. I have learned to change car batteries, unclog pipes, fix lawn mowers, and countless other things. I am the person other people call when they need help. I currently work full-time,&l and I am also enrolled in college online to obtain my B.S. in Healthcare Administration. In addition, I have two girls that my husband and I adore. My first ever race was the Ragnar Relay. I AM TOUGH!!!!! ….. or so I thought.

In December of 2010, I had a hysterectomy. I went in on a Thursday and was able to have it done laparoscopically. I went home on a Friday, and was shopping on the following Saturday. I knew that skin/nipple sparing mastectomies were not going to be quite as easy, but I still thought that I would get through it with flying colors. But, right before I went into surgery, I had a surge of emotions. I didn’t expect that. I thought I had made peace with having the surgery and that was that. Still, there is something very emotional about letting go of one of the most basic things that define you as a woman. After surgery, there was also more pain then I had imagined. Throw in a little post-anesthesia nausea and I ended up with a two-night hospital stay. This was not in my plans. After I got home, I had four drains from the surgery to contend with. One of those drains was directly on my incision and every wrong move almost brought me t o my knees. I did my best to relax and take it easy. I had amazing support from my family and friends. But it’s just against my nature to be still for very long and I struggled with the inactivity.

Finally, three weeks after the surgery, all the drains were removed, so back to work I went. It was time to start the reconstruction process. I have tissue expanders and I am going through the process of gradually having them filled with saline to get to the size I want to be. This is done on a weekly basis. Once this is accomplished, there will be a second surgery to replace the expanders with implants. I sailed through the first expansion. It was easy breezy and I was looking good! Of course, as you might guess from above, I was charging ahead full-steam and getting the maximum amount of fluid each time. The second time I had the filling, it was tougher. I was uncomfortable. My chest felt tight, I got pretty sore, and I couldn’t sleep in any position but on my back. I hate sleeping on my back! In my last expansion, I again charged ahead with the full amount of fluid. This time the pain did bring me to my knees, literally. It felt like a 400-pound weight was on my chest and something was trying to rip my pectoralis muscle from my chest. For three days, I was unsure if I could keep going with the whole process. I was exhausted, physically and emotionally. I was also discouraged and tired of being strong. So I did what perhaps I needed to do from the beginning, I lost it. I sat down and cried.

My husband was amazing! He let me get it all out and then said all of the right things. He told me that, if I was done with the process, I was beautiful and he loved me no matter what. He also said to slow down, let go of always having to be full-speed ahead, and to take things as they came. I will go for my next expansion soon and I am going to have half the amount I did last time and see how it goes. This isn’t a sprint. However long it takes me to complete this journey is okay with me.

I got the news that all of the pathology was clear: no cancer or even atypical cells. My risk of breast and ovarian cancer that felt like a sure thing is now reduced to being very minimal. Knowing what I know now, I don’t regret my decision one bit. I am glad that I made the decision to be proactive. The only thing I would have changed is that I would have realized early on that I am human. I wasn’t born with an “S” on my chest. I would have taken things a little more slowly and accepted that the process was going to take time. But peace of mind is priceless. This journey, even though it has been tough, has given me far more than it has cost me. For that, I am forever grateful!