Saturday, July 25, 2015

It is in the Genes!

DNA and RNA are wonderful things; they tell us so much when we learn how to interpret them. They can tell us where our ancestors came from (in my case, Great Britain and western Europe, with a little Caucuses and Finnish for good measure.)  Or, they can tell us how to approach our cancers, our treatments, and future issues we may face.

Angelina Jolie certainly brought awareness to this diagnostic tool when she went public with her decision to test. Her genetic test showed that she had what's known as the BrCA1 mutation.  The BRCA stands for Breast Cancer, and this is one variation.  She opted to remove her ovaries and have a double mastectomy with reconstruction. She told us about it , explaining that she had watched her family members suffer.  She did not want the same for her.

An illustration from Wikimedia of the BRCA2 gene.

"PBB Protein BRCA2 image"
Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons 
I recently had testing as well. I'm guessing this is no surprise: all those cancers! They tested a full panel of different gene mutations that lead to breast cancer, each with a slight variation of what other issues the body is likely to have. Pancreas, kidneys, lung -- all sorts of delights!

Sure enough, I have a mutation known as BrCA2. In my case, part of the tumor suppressor genes that prevent cancers have been deleted. I inherited this mutation from either my mother or father, and all of my first degree female relatives have the same chance: my daughter, my sister, and if she has it, my niece and nephew. My cousins may have the deletion as well.

I stood a 45% chance of developing breast cancer before the age of 70. Adding in estrogen from birth control (for unbelievable cramps, not that it matters), especially at the doses given in the 70s, meant doom for me. I also stand a decent chance of ovarian cancer, and certain other cancer risks. 

But not thyroid. They don't know why I got thyroid cancer. My thryroid cancer was "idiopathic," meaning they don't know why it happened.  I do: treatment for the first cancer I had, plus x-rays, cell phones and other exposures. It was a bucket that just got filled up with everyday radiation and spilled over with cancer. 

Here's my plan for treatment: I am planning to eliminate my ovaries (I'm most certainly not using them) and yes, I'll have that other mastectomy.  I won't have reconstruction.  It just makes no sense; the one side won't heal anyway, and who wants to be lopsided?

By the way, bras and supplies for mastectomy patients are simply the worst. Badly made, too expensive, ugly and, in the case of my supplier, too heavy to be safe for my still healing incision at the time. I won't have that burden any longer.

You might wonder how I'm feeling. I'm at peace. I'm mostly concerned about work, so I may delay the mastectomy for a while.  I'm also struggling about where to go for surgery; I was very unhappy with my repeated incision reopenings and I feel like I hadn't been cared for properly. In addition, the health system I'm in frequently bills me for amounts that my Blue Cross/Blue Sheild Alabama will pay. I'm seriously going broke!

So, more costs for cancer: a trail of body parts. Yes, that's whistling-past-the-graveyard humor.