Bridget's Previvor Story

My name is Bridget. I am a Master’s candidate, a wife, dog mom, vegan, outdoors person, and I am told a pretty great friend too. I am also BRCA 2 positive and a previvor. I found out I had to test for a mutation in the BRCA gene, on September 10th, 2018 a mere 6 days after I embarked into my graduate program. 

I choose to be tested because of the extensive history of cancer in my family. With cancer on both sides of my family, I needed this knowledge to give me a sense of power and choice in a world where nothing seemed fair, and nothing seemed to make sense to me. 

I always had the inclination that something was off in my family, but I was not familiar with hereditary cancer. When the doctors took notice and started to inquire about my family’s genetics, I was actually quite thrilled. Of course, I felt anxious for myself and everyone in my family. It all began with my Aunt’s breast cancer. Once she tested positive, they began to examine the rest of us, and well the rest is history. 

The results took seven and a half weeks to come back. I did my best to keep up with my routine and schedule while I waited. I managed my stress through an integrative approach. That is looking after my mind, body, and spirit. I utilized essential oils, focused on healthy eating, meditation, while also ensuring I moved my body daily. 

Moreover, I researched a lot on my own. Additionally, I connected with women on Instagram and Facebook and began to build up a network of BRCA sisters. I simply refused to isolate myself. Grad school is already secluding, and I did not want a BRCA journey to further drive me into a depressive state. So, I focused on practising self-care, finding a distraction when necessary, and overall empowerment. I took charge to find and build coping mechanisms before I even received the call. That’s what kept me busy while I waited for the result. 

The day I received the phone call I was attending a funeral. I answered the phone; “Mrs. Nicholls you are BRCA 2 positive”. My heart sank, but I had my network of support already there for me and my pile of research to help me navigate my future. 

I continued on with my graduate coursework after I found out. My fellow colleagues would go to fun events, and I went in for screenings, MRIs, mammograms, and high-risk doctor appointments. I even saw a dermatologist. This was isolating for me as a graduate student, and I was quite thankful I began to build up support networks in advance. 

Everything has come back clear except for my skin. I am pre-cancerous and have undergone one surgery to remove troubling areas and am going back next week for a second, more thorough surgery. I go in for day surgery and the very next day will facilitate a seminar with my students as a teaching assistant. This is what I need to do to be able to continue with my studies. Of course, my students are unaware of my situation, my colleagues, however, are incredibly supportive and absolutely amazing to be around. I am grateful for the support I have. 

Notably, it has not been easy to be a graduate student while making this journey as a previvor. I have watched my colleagues be accepted to conferences, organize events or make other incredible contributions in their fields. Conversely, I am over here visiting doctors and planning to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy (scheduled end of June). This matters because of the more you present and such, the more you are eligible for current and future scholarships, funding and, of course, the ability to have your work contribute knowledge on a larger scale. As someone who will be pursuing Doctoral studies, this can undoubtedly impact my future prospects. 

What I have learned on this journey is that we are all on our paths in life. Sometimes we have to let go of our expectations, fear, and regret. In fact, I have had to give in to my journey and also take the reins of it. I have had to accept my path and also learn to navigate it in the space of academia that is not structured to accommodate everyone; people who have barriers such as me. Not all barriers are visible, and indeed, not all are acknowledged and addressed. I had to push back, speak up, and take control. I had to push my doctors and those at my school. I spent endless hours researching for my own thesis, but also for my own body. I took control and reached out to learn from others’ journeys and to also share my own. I have taken control of how I have approached this journey. 

Yes, it is a terrifying and imperfect journey. Most of my life I have been chasing after the opportunity to be where I am and I certainly never expected to be here and making these decisions about my health. 

But here I am. 

There was an almost immediate disconnection from my body and my breasts upon finding out about the mutation. I still navigate this, daily. I do that by leaning on my network of support. One of my BRCA sisters told me along the way to feel it all, talk to your breasts and listen. As women, we are conditioned that our bodies are never good enough. Our breasts are too small, too big, not perky enough. We then, develop a strange relationship with our bodies where we spend years wishing, hoping, and often spending money on products that aim to improve our physical appearance. I am learning to apologize to my body and my self while also saying goodbye to my breasts before my surgery. 

I also used to see cancer as a binary; this or that, cured or not, you have it, or you do not. My BRCA journey as a previvor has taught me that cancer is far more complicated than that. For us previvors, we live with the threat of cancer. We don’t have it, but we have this heightened risk of cancer. Cancer for a previvor like me goes beyond the binary and extends to the idea that cancer is impending. Cancer then can be fear based. What if, as previvors, cancer can be expanded to ideas of joy, grateful, blessed, and empower. 

When we empower and lift each other up that is a radical act in of itself. Surrounding myself with positive people, thoughts, and things have been the golden ticket on my journey. My focus is on everything gratitude and empowering. There are good days and bad days, of course, please do not let me fool you. However, those who I surround myself with help me through the bad days. That's the beauty of empowerment and support, it is in the most challenging of times that they are there for us. 

I am truly blessed to be here and to know of my BRCA mutation. This is my journey, and I am grateful to be on it. 

Instagram @naturally_bridget

3 comments

Michael R Pembleton

So proud of my awesome sister – Tough as she is, nothing can bring her down and WE will win this ! She is a force to be reckoned with.

Katherine Keays

Seriously inspiring. I love how you described having to “give in to my journey and also take the reins”. It’s such an honest description of managing illness. Thanks for sharing! 💜💙💚

Katherine Keays

Seriously inspiring. I love how you described having to “give in to my journey and also take the reins”. It’s such an honest description of managing illness. Thanks for sharing! 💜💙💚

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