As the month of October draws to a close, and we continue to salute and admire the strength of those women who have experienced breast cancer or some form of cancer, I would like to introduce you to Abby Lawson. Abby is a talented, energetic, lovely young woman who has quite the story to share this week. It is amazing how cancer affects women, regardless of age, and their personal journeys vary in numerous ways. As you read these heartfelt stories, please remember to pray for everyone dealing with this disease whether newly diagnosed, presently walking the journey, or in remission. It's a path we never asked to walk, but a faith building experience where we learn to lean on Jesus to supply a "peace that passes all understanding."
Whenever I was a sophomore in college, my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at only 43 years old. While hearing the word “cancer” is always scary, it was especially terrifying to our family because my grandmother-- my mother’s mother-- had passed away from breast cancer at the young age of 35. And my grandmother’s mother had passed away from ovarian cancer, so we were beginning to see an alarming trend happening.
My mom was such a trooper through her treatments, was thankfully able to beat her cancer, and has been cancer free for more than 15 years now. But due to the strong history of female cancers in our family, as she was undergoing treatment, her doctor recommended that she be tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations.
BRCA carriers have an extremely high risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancers, so when the test results came back and my mom was positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation, she had a double mastectomy and oophorectomy at her doctor’s recommendation to minimize her risk of future cancers.
Since my mom was a carrier of the BRCA1 mutation, my younger sister Brittany and I-- who were 17 and 20 and the time-- were also tested for the gene. We each had a 50% chance of being BRCA1 carriers. If we had gotten that particular gene from our mom, we would also be BRCA1 positive. If that gene had come from our dad, we would not.
Obviously our first choice was that neither of us would be carriers of the gene so we wouldn’t have to face a very, very high risk of breast and ovarian cancer in our future. But if we both couldn’t avoid the gene, our next choice was that we would both have it so that we could face whatever resulted together, and that is what ended up happening.
So at age 20, I knew that I was going to have to start having mammograms and ovarian cancer screenings in the next few years. I knew that I should have my kids early, if possible, so that I could have preventative surgeries to reduce my risk before I was 35.
It seemed a little weird to think about since I wasn’t even married, let alone thinking about having kids yet, but at 20, 35 seemed so far away, so I felt like I had tons of time before I really had to worry about anything.
I ended up getting married at 22 and had my first baby at 24. At 25, I started being screened every 6 months for breast and ovarian cancers, and in the years that followed, I had a few scares.
I remember calling my husband Donnie at work, sobbing so hard that I almost couldn’t speak, because they thought they had seen a lump during one of my mammograms, and in my family, I knew that could be really, really bad news.
The news that they would plan to do a biopsy came on the Friday of a holiday weekend, so I had to wait three terribly agonizing days before I was able to go in for more testing, wondering if I was going to be able to see my baby grow up or if my life was going to be cut short like my grandmother’s and great grandmother’s had been.
Thankfully, when I finally went in for the test, I was given the all clear, but that experience made me keenly aware of how serious this whole BRCA thing could be and how life could change in an instant.
After having my second son when I was 27, I had a preventative double mastectomy at age 30. Having the surgery was scary, but after enduring so much testing and a couple scares in the previous five years, I was ready to have the peace of mind that came with my now much, much reduced risk of being diagnosed with breast cancer in my lifetime.
The plan was to wait until I was 35 to have a second surgery to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer, but again, after a few scares from test results, my doctor and I agreed to act preemptively, and I had the surgery at 33 instead. Again, thankfully, all of the testing they did after my surgery was complete came back cancer free.
I am now 35, and as I look back over the last 15 years, I continue to cling to the verse that my mom, sister, and I have claimed ever since we all found out that we were BRCA carriers.
Psalm 139:13-14 says,
“For you formed my inward parts; you knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.”
The Lord knit me together. I firmly believe that. So that means that this genetic thing may be a mutation, but it’s not a mistake. He meant it to be part of my story, and if his desire is to use it for his purposes and to further his Kingdom in some way, so be it.
If I was writing my own story, would I have included cancer risk and major surgeries as part of it? Probably not. But I believe I serve a God who is much wiser than I, and I trust that his will is always going to be greater than mine.
The testing and the surgeries, the worrying and wondering-- it hasn’t always been easy. But I also learned so much from it and felt God carrying me through it. I learned to trust him in new ways, and he gave me strength and peace that surpassed all understanding in the midst of it. I am so grateful for all he has taught me, and it has been such a blessing to see him work in ways that are far better than I could ever have asked or imagined.