By Liana Jacob
FOLLOWING A CANCER scare this woman decided to get a double-mastectomy and has since decided to embrace her look and raise awareness of the BRCA1 mutation.
Mad Monkey Hostels marketing manager, Kelly Iverson (25), from Kansas, USA, came from a family history of cancer fighters and because of this was encouraged to get tested for the BRCA1 mutation. The BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutation are genes linked to a high breast cancer and ovarian cancer risk as well as a risk for prostate cancer.
In January 2018, she was tested for the mutation after her dad found out he had it and while she was away in Thailand for work purposes, she was given the devastating news over the phone that she had the BRCA1 mutation.
She visited a local hospital in Bangkok, Thailand, and her doctor felt a lump in her breasts. An MRI scan revealed that she had three tumours, so this prompted her to book an ultrasound appointment and was recommended an MRI breast biopsy.
After trying six different hospitals, she finally found one that had the equipment to do the MRI breast biopsy. By the time she had the test done, she was aware that two of the tumours in her left breast were benign and it was revealed that, to her relief, the third tumour in her right breast was also benign.
The scare then convinced her to get a preventative mastectomy, but before her surgery she decided to professionally document her breasts to appreciate them.
In July 2018 she underwent the double-mastectomy and her breasts were replaced with implants. She has since displayed her new body on social media to inspire others to love their bodies whether they have breasts or not.
“I was tested for the mutation after my dad found out that he had it. His sister pushed him to be tested because their mother died of breast cancer and she also had breast cancer several times,” Kelly said.
“I felt pretty crushed. At the time, I wasn’t too sure what it meant, so it felt like a death sentence. I am so happy that my sister does not have the mutation.
“I have a much higher chance of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer, especially because of my family history, so I am choosing to be a previvor.
“I’ve seen what women have to go through once they have breast cancer; I can’t see a reason to not take my health into my own hands and make sure that never happens.
“Of course, there is a very small chance of getting breast cancer even after the mastectomy. Rare, but it can happen.
“I anxiously awaited the results of my second biopsy in Phnom Penh. I tried to enjoy my new role and team members but was very distracted.
“I finally called the hospital a few weeks afterward and was told that my results were in and had been for a few days, but that I would need to fly to Bangkok for the doctor to tell me what those results were.
“I immediately believed I had breast cancer; why else would I need to fly to a different country to get my results?
“It was incredibly stressful. I also felt that the language barrier made it difficult to ever feel at ease. Getting the biopsies was very difficult, and the waiting afterward was just as bad.
“Either way, the doctor was not in until Monday. I essentially threw a very large fit and whoever I spoke to finally agreed to send me the results via email: it was benign.
“I had already decided by then that I wanted the preventative mastectomy, so I had my double mastectomy on July 6, 2018.”
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are two examples of genes that raise your cancer risk if they mutate. Having a variant BRCA gene increases a woman’s chance of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
Angelina Jolie had preventative breast cancer surgery in 2013 following an ovarian cancer surgery.
Kelly then explains how the mastectomy had changed her life.
“I am a very active person. In Thailand and Cambodia, I do Muay Thai and workout in my free-time. One of the most difficult aspects of the surgery was not being able to do any of that,” she said.
“I still haven’t fully grasped that I no longer have my own breasts – I do have my own nipples. These new ones will definitely take some getting used to.
“I cannot feel them, but I do have strange sensations; sometimes my breasts itch but obviously I can’t feel myself scratching. It is very strange.
“The mastectomy has changed my life in that my risk of ever getting breast cancer goes from over eighty percent to less than one-percent. In comparison to that number, any other changes seem pretty minimal.
“I want to become an advocate for those who have the BRCA mutation and help advocate for all things breast cancer related.
“I also want to note how amazing my colleagues and boss were in allowing me to work remotely during this time. I’m still in the United States as I await a second surgery. They have been nothing but supportive in all aspects.”
Despite some days when she hates her body, she has learned to accept herself for who she is and this has made her change her perspective.
“There are days where I hate my body, but these days become fewer and fewer as life goes on,” Kelly said.
“Sometimes, I cry at the loss of my breasts and others, I am delighted at how my new ones are so perky and full in comparison to my real ones. It really depends on the day.
“My family were supportive of my decision. My mother specifically was worried about my decision to have a mastectomy; she mostly wanted me to keep in mind that there is still a chance I might not ever get breast cancer.
“She came around eventually. My dad was very supportive because he watched his mother die from breast cancer.
“My advice would be to find FORCE. They are an advocacy group for all things BRCA related and will give you plenty of information to help you make whatever decision is best for you.
“For me, getting a mastectomy was the only option, especially living in Cambodia. For others, this is not the case. Just be sure to do your research and thoroughly consider all options.
“Also – you are not alone. Find a support group vent near you or online that will help you get through this.”