Hi. My name is Ali Walensky. On December 15th, 2016 I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. As of June 15th, 2017, I was declared cancer free. The Lilith article I’m featured in focuses on my advocacy for an incredible organization called Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood was the first place I went to for a breast exam. They also wrote all of my prescriptions for any tests I needed and checked in on me the day after I was diagnosed. It’s impossible for me to overstate how much Planned Parenthood has helped me and how they truly saved my life.
Most women my age aren’t too concerned about breast cancer. It’s usually something that affects women who are at least twice my age, but breast cancer is something that’s been on my mind for a while now. My family has a history of the BRCA 1 gene mutation. This mutation gives a person anywhere from a 65-89% chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer as well as a higher chance of other cancers such as skin and pancreatic. My mother, her two sisters, my first cousin, and (as I would come to find out) my sister and I all have this mutation. Not only that, but my grandmother and her two sisters, who were all BRCA negative, are all breast cancer survivors. Ashkenazi Jewish women are also at a higher risk of developing breast cancer. I knew and accepted the fact that it would happen to me some day, I just didn’t think it would be so soon.
From January to April of this year I had six chemotherapy infusions. If the side effects of chemo weren’t enough to deal with, I had a decision weighing on my mind: surgery. My options were a lumpectomy with radiation afterwards, a unilateral mastectomy, or a bilateral mastectomy. Many people in my life thought my decision would be easy. Get the bilateral and then you don’t have to worry about a reoccurrence or continue to get screened. With my genes and luck cancer was bound to happen again. But let’s back up for a second. I’m 25 years old. Opting to get my breasts cut off, breasts that I’ve had for fifteen years and proudly grew myself, is not a simple decision for me. There is a trend now of young BRCA+ women opting for a double mastectomy before they’re diagnosed to make sure they don’t develop breast cancer. They have every right to make that decision if they feel that’s the best option for them. But this is the problem that I kept coming back to: Even without breast tissue a person still has a 1-3% chance of developing breast cancer. I had a big decision to make.