My name is Naomi Singer and I carry a BRCA 1 gene mutation.
Even though both my paternal grandparents died of cancer, in my mind it wasn’t something I had to worry about. Or so I thought. I had no idea what a BRCA gene mutation was and when I think back, I had little interest. At age forty-three, I was living life! In 2017 my father’s relative who had breast cancer some years before, discovered she carried the BRCA 1 genetic mutation. My father decided to be tested. I read up on BRCA 1 and if my father were a carrier, all four of us children would have a 50 percent chance of being carriers. The test result took about eight weeks to come back. During this time I honestly gave it no thought, my dad was healthy, fit and in my mind he couldn’t be carrying a faulty gene.
Eight weeks passed, it was early 2018 and my dad told me his result was positive. My heart sank, not really for myself but for my daughters. If I too was a carrier then both my daughters were at risk. I had to find out. My sisters and I were tested. The waiting was awful. “What if I already have cancer?” “What if I don’t get to see my girls grow up?” “Would I remove my breasts?” It wasn’t something I talked about with many people, but these questions in the lonely hours of the night were so upsetting and confronting. Did I really want to know?
With both sisters by my side we met our specialist via Skype to hear the result. I sat praying the mutation would spare my beautiful sisters who I love so dearly, as I now knew the ramifications of a positive result. The doctor advised my sisters and I that all three of us tested positive. We had never considered this possibility. It was unthinkable. We were in shock and once again, my mind turned to my precious daughters. Would they carry the mutation?
As the weeks unravelled we were given information to make informed decisions. It was an emotional rollercoaster of fear, confusion and sadness. I knew without question my ovaries had to be removed, ovarian cancer is hard to detect and I already had all the children I wanted so I was pragmatic.
I had surgery three weeks after discovering I carried the mutation. Recovery was painful and slow but fairly unemotional. I was back doing normal activities within a couple of months. I felt reassured that my higher than normal risk of ovarian cancer had been reduced to a zero percent chance. I’m grateful I had the opportunity to prevent such a sinister disease.
My next decision whether to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction to eliminate the 80 percent chance of contracting breast cancer was much harder. This was my womanhood, how could I possibly remove what had fed my babies, what defined me as a woman. I didn’t want to remove my femininity, it unsettled me to interfere with nature, and I didn’t want to lose all sensation in that part of my body.
Mentally I struggled, however the prospect of being diagnosed with breast cancer when it could be avoided was too much to bear. I saw my surgeon and set a date to go ahead with the procedure. It wasn’t a walk in the park I wouldn’t wish it on anyone, least of all my daughters. The physical recovery was long and painful, but nothing compared to the emotional challenges the sadness was overwhelming, it was an incredibly lonely time.
After six months of grieving I looked deeper into what my womanhood meant, how something beyond a physical attribute defined me as a woman. I discovered that womanhood is so much more than what we see with the eye. I never considered before that being a compass for my family, sharing a soft smile, showing strength with tenderness, making a house a home were all parts of me from birth that made me a woman. I began focusing more on the deeper and enriching side of being female and I guess, in a way, I found more love.
I love being a woman, with or without my breasts and I say yes to knowledge and yes to power, yes to prevention and yes to more time with my girls. This to me is more valuable than anything. I feel completely and utterly positive about the future, I feel like a woman and I feel powerful.
As for my daughters, their BRCA journey is yet to unfold. I have hope that with more research and knowledge, should they be BRCA carriers they won’t have to make the invasive and confronting choices I had to make. I encourage them to make healthy choices in life, to be grateful for what they have and I’ll continue to share my story with them so they can face the future, whatever it may be, with strength, positivity and love for all their years to come.