Raffi’s Story

When I was pregnant with my second daughter at the ripe-old-age of 22, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. Doctors tried to tell her that she was lucky. “If you have to get breast cancer, you should get it like this!” Her oncologist explained that she had just one lump and it was not near her lymph nodes, meaning the cancer was less likely to metastasize. In addition, her medical team had been watching her closely for years, so it was detected early.

Why were doctors watching over my mother’s breasts? Well first, she had a mysterious lump when I was a pre-teen. And my mom’s breasts were a natural H-cup. Yes, H. It does exist, and it does hurt your back, and yes, you do usually have to order special bras and swimsuits. Plus my family is generation after generation of Ashkenazi Jews – Jewish people of Eastern European descent. Jewish women have a slightly higher risk of breast cancer than other women. This increased risk is likely due to the high prevalence of BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. Mammography back then (late ‘80s) wasn’t anything like the 3D tech we have now, so they kept a close eye on her sizeable chest.

My mother’s breast required a lumpectomy, not a mastectomy. That was also lucky. In May of 1998, my daughter was born at the same time my mom was scheduled for her first radiation treatment. She needed only radiation – no chemo, which again was lucky. Before walking across the catwalk to the cancer center, my mom came to hold her newborn granddaughter in the maternity wing. For the first time, she actually felt lucky.

My mom had premenopausal breast cancer and we’re all here to tell the tale 18 years later, something we celebrated at my daughter’s recent 18th birthday.

You may have noticed I mentioned my mother’s breast size in past tense. That is not because cancer took her from us. Rather, she opted for a breast reduction. She also had the BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing done, and tested negative. My mom had premenopausal breast cancer and we’re all here to tell the tale 18 years later, something we celebrated at my daughter’s recent 18th birthday. And now when my daughter volunteers at Race for the Cure, she says she volunteers for her Bubby (grandmother). My family has either volunteered or participated as a runner in the Race. It’s our way of giving back and supporting the cause.  ~ Raffi

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