Coach Casey, BRCA2 Previvor
I did not need a genetic test to tell me I had a predisposition to cancer. Growing up, I watched my aunt, cousin, and mother get diagnosed with breast cancer within a few short years of each other. I was also aware of the others in my family that had passed away from cancer. This strong family history led doctors to urge the women of my family to get genetic testing and one by one we all tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.
Through visits to the genetic counselors, it was revealed that 11 women in our family had been affected by this gene and that I had a near 100% chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer in my lifetime. While the doctors monitored me closely with mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRI’s every few months, I was living in fear waiting for an impending diagnosis. Then one day I received the call that I was dreading, they found something and needed to determine if it was cancerous. Even though the MRI guided biopsy revealed that the lump was benign, that painful experience was scary enough for me to choose to have a prophylactic mastectomy with immediate reconstruction in November 2012.
Shortly after surgery, I faced a complication that left me with one breast for 7 months. Since surgically removing healthy breasts was still a foreign idea to most, this led me to feel very isolated and depressed. At the time, there was no information or stories shared about the procedure let alone how to make a full recovery. As a coach and competitive athlete, my biggest challenge was the worry I faced over not being able to do the same activities I used to. Women in recovery are not often given set of instructions on when to integrate certain activities. I found the lack of clear guidelines and goals disappointing. Having just received physical therapy for my knee, I knew developing range of motion was incredibly important to avoid scar tissue that can limit mobility. While doing a push up is an obvious far off goal, what about reaching obtainable goals towards daily activities like being able to drive, walk my dog, clean, cook for myself, or work?
Although I did find support groups and a therapist to help with the emotional aspect of recovery, I noticed there was still an incredible void in resources regarding exercise post-mastectomy. So, I seized the opportunity to gain more CEU’s toward my profession by taking a course in training women recovering from breast cancer. Within the online support groups, I quickly became the go-to person for all their questions regarding activities and fitness. It seems as if most women, including the women in my family, were just operated on and dismissed with no further instructions. While I am grateful to have had someone there to help me around the house, my heart went out especially to the do-it-all mothers who sought advice. I remember one mother saying she was in intense pain after picking up her child, which is something that had not been discussed with any of the women by their doctors. My advice was for her to bend at the knees, hold the child close, then lift with the legs since extending the arms to lift a 20lb child would strain the pectoral muscles so soon after surgery.
In total, breast removal and reconstruction took 4 surgeries and a year for me. But, having a prophylactic mastectomy was the best decision I ever made. Not only was I able to make a full recovery, but I became an even better athlete than I was before! Just 4 months after my last surgery I competed in my first competition that included rope climbs and tire flips; at 5 months I won 1st place in my age group at my first triathlon back; and at 6 months I celebrated by finishing the first ever 12 Hour Spartan Race Hurricane Heat! Since then, I have even gone on to compete on American Ninja Warrior and share my story.
With my knowledge and personal experience, I made it my mission to not only share my story but to develop guidelines to help those overcome physical limitations as a result of breast cancer related surgeries. While Foobie Fitness was created as a guide to help women prepare and recover from breast cancer related surgeries, the website serves to educate everyone on how we can all make small improvements to help live a cancer-free lifestyle. #Happy learning!