What would you do if you discovered your body’s defenses against breast and ovarian cancers were severely inhibited? Claudia Gilmore decided to opt for a double mastectomy, taking charge of her breast health before breast cancer could conquer her.
Claudia recounts her journey of discovery, grief, education, enlightenment, and absolute euphoria in her blog on previve.com. She had watched her dear grandmother, Martha, fall prey to breast cancer and then multiple bouts with ovarian cancer. The ovarian cancer eventually spread, taking her life. Near the end of her life, Martha acquiesced to genetic testing and found she carried the deadly mutation of BRCA1. Claudia saw her grandma as a pillar of strength and took courage in her brave struggle.
Wishing to know rather than not, Claudia asked doctors to perform genetic testing on her; the results predicted a bleak future for the energetic 21-year-old: her BRCA1 gene also carries a mutation. This meant her risk of developing breast cancer was 85% and her risk of developing ovarian cancer was 54%. What’s more, with BRCA1 in her genes, she was more likely to develop breast cancer before menopause, a breast cancer that tends to move quickly and virulently. Doctors recommend women in Claudia’s situation have both breasts removed at age 35. Even with the increased risk, most BRCA1/BRCA 2 women do not develop cancer in their early 20s. Some is not all, however, and Claudia wanted assurance and peace of mind. In her first entry, Claudia considers,
But, for me, I have trouble just living my life with this hanging over my head. Doctors tell me not to worry, but that’s really easier said than done. Every time I do a self breast exam, I constantly wonder if I’m feeling a lump or breast duct. How am I to know?
Claudia is not alone ruminating the pros and cons of such a monumental decision at an age when insecurity stymies even the most secure among us. In fact, Claudia records how she channels the strength and spirit of other young women similarly afflicted to move forward on her own journey.
Claudia and the other strong women facing breast cancer at every age are one reason CBCC and YPAC exist. Claudia sought the knowledge she needed and she shares her experiences and lessons learned through her blog. She shows us that none of us possess immunity and we all must proactively guard our health—through education and medical care. Take control of your health today. Do not wait until you graduate college or you find your first job or you find the love of your life. Claudia’s exceptionality should not intimidate you. Model her: she saw the signs and took the necessary tests. Most importantly, she discussed the history of breast cancer with her family. You should too. Claudia’s genetic mutation is a product of her paternal line, not her mother’s side as a lot of people assume with breast cancer. Ask you fathers, your grandmothers, your aunts; arm yourself with the tools to fight whatever battle awaits.
Now 23, Claudia equipped herself, faced her demons, and laid down on the hospital bed and became a previvor on 11 January 2011. YPAC honors Claudia and others like her. Claudia was lucky. Her family and boyfriend held her up when she could not do so herself. All women are not so lucky. CBCC holds up women without the resources they need and YPAC seeks to support them in their endeavors.
Thank you, Claudia for showing us what a little strength and determination will accomplish.