It may seem extreme, but having both of her still-healthy breasts removed is the only way this Chicago public relations executive felt she could go forward with her life.Kim Metcalfe, 43, of Plainfield, executive vice president and a specialist in corporate and crisis communications at Chicago public relations agency Zeno Group, talked about her decision two days before having a double mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery. Metcalfe’s genetic testing showed a “positive” result for a harmful mutation of the BRCA1 gene, along with an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 without the surgery and a 4 percent risk if she chose the surgery. Her breast surgery, done Wednesday, was successful, and she will undergo removal of her ovaries at a later date because the same gene poses a risk for ovarian cancer.
It started 14 years ago. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was 54. Over the course of her treatment, we had some ups and downs. She was in remission for a short time.
When the cancer returned, it took nine weeks from diagnosis to death. At that time, my daughter, Alexis, was 9 months old.
My husband and I had a long conversation. We watched her suffer. We both agreed, after I was older and we finished having children, we’d move forward with whatever medical science would allow us if I was at risk of the disease.
My mother had the foresight to have her blood banked. I had the blood tested and it came back negative (for the BRCA1 mutation). I didn’t think much more of it. Then I went in for a regular checkup and my ob/gyn said, “You’re at a certain age. You might want to consider getting your blood tested.” It came back positive.
On my mother’s side, my mother had breast cancer; my grandfather (her father) had skin cancer; my great-grandmother died of breast cancer at a very young age in the early 1900s when you didn’t talk about your breasts and when surgery was brutal. Also, my mother’s aunt, my mother’s cousin and my mother’s second cousin had breast cancer.
To me, this is a no-brainer. I met with a genetic counselor. I met with a breast cancer surgeon and with a plastic surgeon. I’m going to do some reconstruction. I can jokingly say I’ll have the best-looking top half when I’m 70 years old. Nothing will sag.
My husband has promised that I have free reign at Victoria’s Secret afterward, to find whatever I want to feel pretty and sexy. I’ll be wearing a good sports bra for a while until I’m in a position of being comfortable and not sore.
I’m used to a tough workout routine, and I just finished a ‘Warrior Dash.’ I’ll have to be careful not to push too much because, since the incision will be on the outside corner of each breast, I may not be able to raise my arms for a month.
The key message is that this doesn’t have to be a taboo subject — recognize that they are only breasts.
Men have asked. After all, someone has a sister, a mother, a girlfriend.
I’m a woman who doesn’t want to make decisions with no information and without being proactive. I love being a mother; a professional; a wife. I have the answers. I can move forward with factual information.
The fact I work at a company that cares about me, looks at me as human first and an employee second is something I don’t take for granted. Yes, I get vacation, travel, bagels on Friday, etc., but there’s no replacement for important things like good health care insurance and the support of senior leaders who give a darn.
It’s important to go to the doctor, to be proactive in our medical care, to do self-breast exams and to get breast exams to be able to catch it early and be able to do something.
When you get a mammogram, you must see the chest muscle wall. If the picture doesn’t go all the way to the chest muscle wall – it’s still considered the breast tissue – you need to have it done again.
The challenge is twofold: I have to re-evaluate myself. I know the surgery is part of the process. It’s a re-evaluation of the way you look. I work out five to six days a week. I eat well. I’m in otherwise perfect health. It’s something you have to get your head wrapped around.
(My husband and I) told her over brunch at a restaurant. We let her understand I don’t have cancer. I have the mutation that causes cancer. Looking at it through the lens of a 15-year-old, I get it — body issues are everything.
That was an incredible opportunity to reinforce the fact that I’m a woman no matter what. She had a different perspective on her body than someone in her early 40s. For a 15-year-old, breasts are a big deal.
Over time, she’s had a chance to think about it and had more questions, like what I’m going to look like. I’ve explained that it’s my life or my breasts — those two don’t work together.
I’ve told her that I’m your mother no matter what. And I’ll still come kick your tush.