A Phone Call That Changed My Life

My story is one that unfolded over several years.  Growing up in a small family of four, we have always been close.  I have an older sister, who at 36 was diagnosed with breast cancer – a major shock to my family, to say the least. I vividly remember the day I found out. It was July 2014, Labor Day weekend in NYC, and I was sitting in the corner of a shoe store at Macy’s, with about five pairs of shoes at my feet. My biggest decision in life at that point was of course, “Which ones should I get?”  My phone rings and it was my mom calling, from Dubai.

That cliché phone call that changes your life in a matter of seconds.

Upon hearing the news of my sister’s malignant lump in her breast, we scrambled to get ourselves informed as a family; our blissfully simple lives were overturned and we were suddenly thrust into the complex world of medical jargon: chemo, estrogen and progesterone, BRCA+, and—what was soon to be the biggest game changer for me – bilateral mastectomies.

Not only did my sister and I both carry the BRCA+1 (or “Angelina Jolie gene”), but we were both suddenly faced with big life decisions regarding the fate of our breasts.  With my sister who underwent chemo, breast reconstruction for her meant rebuilding after a rigorous round of chemo.  For me, upon learning that I had a 80+% chance of getting breast cancer in my lifetime, my decision was instantaneous – I knew without a doubt that I would undergo what medically is called a “prophylactic bilateral preventative mastectomy and reconstruction;” in normal lingo: chop off my boobs and get new ones.

It was indeed a lot to digest. How quickly life can change.  Only one month before, I was planning a trip to Bali and on a whim had decided to get my breasts checked – considering it was breast cancer awareness month, October 2015.  Little did I know that that one incident would have such a domino effect.

Fast forward to 2016, sitting on the operative table about to get my boobs removed, I pondered over life’s choices and decisions; from proactively getting my breasts checked and insisting that further testing be done, to undergoing a biopsy on a lump that, although was benign, eventually led me to do a gene test.  Only to arrive on this very table, about to face the biggest surgery of my life, when I had never had so much as a stitch in my body before.  I truly felt like a warrior.

I now embrace my new “foobs” as they’re called (fake + boobs!).  Yes, I lost my boobs. But I gained a friend in the form of acceptance, fear’s long-time foe.   I hope through this story you realize just how strong and resilient we are; and that with the right knowledge, tools, and resources, we can overcome anything.  Even fear.

By Reema Mehra