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When I tell someone that I am BRCA1 postitive, they usually bring up Angelina Jolie.

The difference, of course, is that I’m just a regular woman in her 20s trying to navigate what an elevated chance of cancer means for my life.

My mom died in 2014 after a five-year battle with breast cancer. I spent the next year in a haze – depressed more than happy.

I changed the channel when cancer prevention commercials came on TV. I despised pink ribbons on cars. I thought anyone in a “save the ta-tas” shirt was delusional.

I knew that I had to get tested for the BRCA gene to understand my risks. My mom and I had discussed it before she died, but it took me over a year after she passed away to gather the courage.

Preparing for surgery. (Courtesy of Mackenzie Alleman)
Preparing for surgery. (Courtesy of Mackenzie Alleman)

Even then, it was a battle to actually get the test done. I met with three doctors before I found one who agreed to do the test. Because my mom was “only” the second woman in my family to have been diagnosed with breast cancer, doctors were hesitant to perform this simple blood test on me.

When I was finally referred to an oncologist, things started to move quickly. The next thing I knew, I was on the phone learning that I had tested positive. Based on my personal history and risk factors, my positive test result meant there was an 87 percent chance that I would develop breast cancer and at least a 53 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer.

I was given all my options: bi-annual screenings, chemoprevention drugs and preventative surgeries.

After scouring the Internet and talking over my options, I knew what I wanted.

I wanted the mastectomy and I wanted it now.

Even though I was confident in my decision, I struggled with the idea of saying goodbye to my breasts. I was just 28 years old. How could I abandon them now? What if I hated my new ones?

I was relieved when I learned about a reconstruction option that would create my new breasts with my own abdominal tissue and knew it was the right decision. I knew I wouldn’t be able to live with the alternative.

After reconstruction surgery. (Courtesy of Mackenzie Alleman)
After reconstruction surgery. (Courtesy of Mackenzie Alleman)

I woke up after my mastectomy with a morphine drip and nurses opening my mastectomy bra. The 12-hour surgery had lowered my chances of cancer to just 2 percent.

In recovery, I turned to the Internet. On Instagram, I connected with women in their 20s and in their 50s who lived all over the United States and the world.

All of a sudden, I was talking about cancer on a regular basis.

I went from avoiding the word all together to finding control. Through my blog, I started gaining confidence, putting positivity into this world and sharing my story, even the ugliest moments of my journey.

I have become an adamant supporter of genetic testing and being your own advocate when it comes to receiving the health care you deserve. My preventative surgeries empowered me.

(Courtesy of Mackenzie Alleman)
(Courtesy of Mackenzie Alleman)

Ultimately I was able to find myself again by saying “no” to a disease that has taken so much from me already.

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