Many women fear the day they receive the news that they have breast cancer and learn that it is in their best interest to lose their breasts. But for Jenna Dickerson, age 28, learning that it was in her best interest to lose her breasts was almost a relief.
“I had been facing it and preparing for it since I was 9,” said Dickerson.
Dickerson lost her mother from breast cancer in 2001 when she was 9. Her mom’s first battle with cancer happened when Dickerson was 6. She went into remission, but the cancer returned a few years later and ultimately took her life. And Dickerson lost other females in her family to breast cancer as well.
So Dickerson grew up with the idea of breast cancer showing up at some point always in the back of her mind.
“Even when I started dating people, I had to have that conversation. ‘Look, this is in my future. This is what you could be in for’,” said Dickerson. “When the genetic testing first came out, I was so drawn to it. If I can do something for myself, why wouldn’t I? Especially with knowing that one day I wanted to have a husband and one day I wanted to have children. Fortunately, I met my husband before it all happened and we could talk through it all and be on the same page.”
Dickerson explained that she was first tested for the BRCA1 (BReast CAncer gene one) gene when she turned 18 and it was negative. She tested again a few years later when the BRCA 2 (Breast Cancer gene two) test came out and it was also negative.
“But then I tested positive for two genes that gave me a 65-70 percent chance of getting breast cancer by the age of 35, but if I did the double mastectomy, my chances went down to one point five percent. That made my decision easy,” said Dickerson. “I also tested positive for the possibility of colon cancer so I will have to start having colonoscopies every two years.”
Dickerson said that even with the double mastectomy, she still faces the very small chance of getting breast cancer and her doctor told it has happened to patients. This is why her doctor pushes advocacy.
“Advocacy is the most important thing. For all of us. And it’s not just women who get cancer but men, too.”
But Dickerson is aware that it is hard for women since so much of their identity if wrapped up in their breasts.
“But is it really that big of a thing if it kills you?” asked Dickerson. “I want to be more than just my breasts and I think most women do.”
Dickerson was so open and honest and not afraid to talk about any of it.
“I definitely think it is something that women should talk about more.It happens to so many. We need to be supporting each other and sharing about it,” said Dickerson.
In fact, she credits being open and talking about it with her moving forward with the surgery and recovering so quickly.
I kept asking doctors what I should do and they weren’t helpful. So then I posted on the Hillsboro Women Facebook page and a woman there shared about her sister who had breast cancer and that led me to my medical surgeon and plastic surgeon.
“And now I tell those doctors what to tell women when they are going through this. And I tell women to talk to me. I don’t want women to be where I was not knowing,” said Dickerson.
She also says the same with her recovery. Talking about it all helped.
“It’s been way better than I thought it would be,” said Dickerson. “I had several other girls that I went through it with and we checked in with each other all the time. It helped.”
For the surgery, the surgeon removed all of the tissue, muscle and nerves while the plastic surgeon came in behind her and put in the empty expander. While Dickerson was still under, the plastic surgeon added in the fluid to begin expanded the skin.
“He got me to a size B and then I will begin going in later this month and he will gradually expand it up to where we want to be,”said Dickerson.
While Dickerson did have pain after the surgery and was unable to do much movement that involved her arms and chest muscles for the first week or so after surgery, she found that she bounced back quickly.
“I made myself get up all the time. My husband Tyler had to do everything for me including brushing my teeth, washing my hair and everything. The one thing I could do was walk, so that is what I did,” said Dickerson.
There were some emotional moments particularly as the surgery grew closer, but Dickerson said for her, losing her breasts far outweighed losing her life.
“The one thing that I did cry over was that I will never be able to breastfeed my baby. That was hard to come to terms with, but who knows if I would have been able to for sure anyway. It just wasn’t even worth the risk,” said Dickerson.
When asked if she had any regrets, Dickerson did not even pause. In fact, she says she has no regrets and has already gained so much from it.
“I feel stronger with every solid eight hours of sleep. And I have farmers who have read my Facebook posts come up to me with tears in my eyes and tell me they think it is brave what I did. So many of them tell me their mom, sister, wife’s friend or someone had to deal with breast cancer. This topic impacts so many people,” said Dickerson. “This is why I will talk about it with anyone. We have to talk about it and advocate for people to learn.”
Dickerson hopes to keep teaching people. She said that she would love to see groups form both for those who have mastectomies by choice and because of cancer.
If you would like to talk to someone, Dickerson is more than willing. You can find her on Facebook. Reach out to her and she will be more than willing to answer any questions you have and talk to you about it.
“I am so glad that I made the decision that I did,” said Dickerson.
Jenna Dickerson with her mom. Jenna lost her mom to breast cancer when she was just 9. As a result of that loss and her family genetics, Jenna made a choice to have a double mastectomy before she found herself with breast cancer and didn’t have an option.