Part One: The BRCA Gene and a Mammogram

Today’s blog is all about genetic testing and what to expect when having a mammogram.   According to cancer.ca, “1 in 8 women are expected to develop breast cancer during her lifetime and 1 in 31 will die of it”. When I started the fertility process, the fact that breast cancer ran in my family was not really something I thought about. Frankly, I usually only thought of it when I saw an ad, when I had a physical, or when I did a self-exam on my breasts.

Because of this journey that I am on, I was able to get so many answers to questions regarding breast cancer.  I now know that the BRCA gene does not run in my immediate family and I know that I personally do not have breast cancer.  Today I want to share with you the importance of pre-screening and what one can expect when being tested for breast cancer.

How It Began

It all started before my first fertility appointment.  I had to fill out a form about my medical history and the medical history of my family.  I didn’t really know why they needed to read about the genetics in my family because I was so naïve. Now I realize that they need this info so that one does not pass on any genetic diseases to their future baby.

Around the age of 50, my Mom developed Stage 2 breast cancer.  I won’t discuss this in much detail but I will say that she is a warrior and has been cancer free for about 15 years. 

Because she had breast cancer, we had to figure out if she had the BRCA gene (breast cancer gene). If she had the gene, I could possibly have the gene which meant that I could possibly pass on the gene to my future baby.  My fertility doctor wanted to stop this from happening so she put in a referral for me at Princess Margaret and my Mom kindly agreed to get genetic testing done.

Because I am so Type A, I have developed a timeline to help the reader understand the timing/process in determining whether one has the BRCA gene and the type of testing that we have in Ontario for breast cancer.

October 2018: My fertility doctor put in a referral to Princess Margaret regarding breast cancer.

December 7th 2018:  A nurse at Princess Margaret called me and after answering a series of questions, she asked me to hold the line while she punched in some numbers.  From there she determined that I was considered “high risk” for breast cancer.  She indicated that this meant that I would be entered into the Ontario Breast Screening Program where I’d receive breast MRI’s and mammograms each year. 

I was absolutely amazed at the type of early detection that happens and am so thankful that this program has been created in Ontario, Canada.

December 28th 2018: I received a call from a nurse named Shelley at Princess Margaret who asked me a series of questions about my medical history and then explained what I could expect for my breast MRI and ultrasound.

January 16th 2019: My Mom was kind enough to go for genetic testing to find out if she had the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutation.

March 4th 2019: My Mom received a call from her nurse stating that she did not have the BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation.

March 12th 2019: 4:30 p.m. – 4:45 p.m. Mammogram at Princess Margaret Hospital

Before I went for my mammogram I had no idea what to expect.  I didn’t even research it on the internet but had heard from a variety of sources over the years that it was “uncomfortable” and “felt like someone squeezing your breasts.”

Does this sound pleasant to anyone?

I figured that this might feel unpleasant but shouldn’t be too bad.  Nevertheless, my anxiety had me fearing the worst but I was hoping for the best.

When I checked in at Princess Margaret they were super kind and had me change right away into a hospital gown from the waist up.  I took a picture of how I was feeling before the appointment because it made me feel (for whatever reason) as though I was not alone.  Please also note that approximately ten people asked if they should come with me to this appointment and I said “no” because I was so stubborn, didn’t want to make people go out of their way, and wanted to prove to myself that I could do things on my own.

After changing, they took me into a room with a lovely female technician who had me place a breast on what looked like a tall x ray table.  I just plopped my breast on the tall table and she said that two plastic plates would just squish my breast for about 30 seconds and that it might feel uncomfortable.

After taking two pictures on each of my breasts (the machine squeezed each breast four times for thirty seconds), it was done.

I could feel my anxiety increase each time the machine squished my breast but it wasn’t bad at all and it was super quick.

“That didn’t hurt!” I said to the technician with a smile.

“I am so glad to hear that” she said.  “Some people tell horrible stories which causes other people to put off getting tested.”

After my mammogram experience, I got changed, and took a picture of how I felt afterwards.  For whatever reason, I was so proud of myself for getting through this test without feeling uncomfortable. I wanted to show that a mammogram wasn’t that bad at all!

After posting my “before” and “after” pics on Instagram, most of the comments from people said that they, too, had good experiences. Well I guess as “good” as a mammogram could possibly be.  Please also note that, one woman stated that it was very painful for her.  She said that she had cysts at the time so it was extremely painful.

My hope is that in reading this, you realize that for the most part, a mammogram is not that bad.  My hope is that you also think about asking your doctor for a mammogram because early detection for breast cancer is key. According to Cancer Care Ontario, if you are high-risk, you may want to think about getting a mammogram every year between the ages of 30-69. If you are 50-74, you should get a mammogram every two years.

So my next topic in this blog was supposed to be about my breast MRI but the blog suddenly turned into the longest piece in history so I will leave it here today.  What I will say is that after having such an easy experience with my mammogram, I thought that the breast MRI would be the same.  Unfortunately, that was not the case and I’ll share everything with you next week.

Until then, please book your mammogram.

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