Amanda Stewart was 33 years old and a mother of three when she found out she had a 97 percent chance of developing breast cancer.
Her mother had the disease and survived, but she’d lost two aunts to it before she and four other women in her family decided to do something about it. They all opted to have preventative double mastectomies as a way to drastically reduce their chances of developing breast cancer — from 97 percent risk down to 5 percent.
According to the National Cancer Data Base, there has been a sharp increase in preventative double mastectomies, especially in the last decade: 12 percent of patients who were diagnosed with stage 0 to stage 3 breast cancer in one breast in 2012 opted to get preventative double mastectomies. That’s a huge jump from just 2 percent in 1998.
While none of the five family members carry the BRAC1 or BRAC2 genes that denote an increased chance of getting the disease, because of their family history, they decided to go ahead with surgery. Amanda was the last to go under the knife and was genuinely happy her situation might aid breast cancer research. However, when she was preparing herself for what her body would look like post-surgery, she was saddened to find very few pictures of women who had undergone preventative double mastectomies.
“I couldn’t find any preventative post-surgery photos or stories in the lead up to my operation, only post-cancer ones and they were all very sombre and sad,” she told Independent. But rather than letting this get her down, Amanda decided to do something about it. She started a Facebook page to chronicle her preventative double mastectomy journey to help women see what the experience is really like. The page is appropriately called “Cancer. You lose” and is filled with positivity about moving forward with life after knowing you’ve reduced your cancer risk significantly.
One aspect of the page that’s gotten a lot of attention is the photography project Amanda has undertaken to show the physical transformations through which her body has gone. In one photo, she shows off her mastectomy scars proudly so that people can get a good look at the aftermath.
But she’s not all strength and positivity. When she has a down day, she openly shares the emotions she’s feeling and the pain she’s going through on the page. While she’s ultimately happy with the preventative measures she’s taken, it was by no means an easy experience.
It’s now been about six weeks since her surgery, and Amanda’s doing much better, both emotionally and physically. She’s embracing life and finding ways to show the world that there can (and should) be joy and laughter after opting to have your breasts removed.
She says on her Facebook page, “I didn’t think I’d be this positive afterwards but it’s six weeks down the line and I’m getting better instead of facing breast cancer. I’m going to be around for my kids. It’s a gift that’s been given to me by the NHS and I’ve grabbed it with both hands.”
Amanda should know she’s also given a gift to the many women who are facing cancer or an elevated risk of cancer due to genetic predisposition. Knowing that something positive awaits you on the other side of such a life-altering surgery could make all the difference to someone who’s recently faced a breast cancer diagnosis.