My BRCA Journey

2018: My Year In Review

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Hi Live Your F*ck Yes Lifers!

I can’t believe it’s that time again to sit down and take stock of the year — it feels like just yesterday I was writing my 2017: My Year in Review blog post.

Doing this every year has become such a beautiful tradition. It gives me space to reflect and set intentions for the upcoming year — and my hope is that it inspires you to do the same.

So often we go about our life not taking stock for what we’ve accomplished, especially when we feel like we haven’t made any progress in a year. But I bet that if you rock out this exercise alongside of me and take some time to truly look back on your year, you’ll be surprised of just how much you HAVE accomplished and just how far you’ve come.


2018 was arguably the best year of my life. 

While learning about having the BRCA 1 mutation was a huge thread through it all, the biggest thing was living up to my chosen word of the year — UNAPOLOGETIC.

It allowed me to feel the fear and do it anyways. 

Say YES to opportunities that my gut was pulling me towards even if my head was saying no. 

Share my story and truth with abandon. 

Finally DO the things I’d been holding myself back from doing for years.

Here’s a snapshot of some of those things…

MY YEAR IN REVIEW

TRAVEL

  • My first trip was a 2 week long stint to LA, San Francisco and Hawaii. I was put up in LA for a leadership conference for my business (which in and of itself was a DREAM and an HONOR) and it landed right around my Birthday/mine and Kev’s anniversary so we extended the trip and drove up the coast to San Francisco before I flew to Honolulu for a week with my best friend from high school, Irina. It was the first time in my career that I was able to just take off and go somewhere because of my business.

  • In April, I got to experience my first all expenses paid trip to Punta Cana that I earned through my coaching biz. I got to take Kev as my guest and it was the most luxurious and relaxing and fun 5 days.

  • Next up was my first retreat I held for the gals on my coaching team in Florida — aka the most hilarious, fun and amazing weekend filled with face masks, rained out photoshoots, laugh attacks and margaritas.

  • And then I got to see them again (plus way more of my gals!) in Indy at our annual coach Summit where I had the biggest full circle moment of my life. Can’t say Indy was the most exciting place to visit, but I would go anywhere to spend a long weekend growing as a business owner and person alongside my team.

  • In August, I got to check a major place off of my bucket list: Iceland. We went in celebration of my mom’s 60th and the amount of adventure we experienced was just unparalleled. We went into the inner chamber of a MF volcano. So cool.

  • The rest of the year was filled with mini trips to Canada (a week spent at my cabin was heaven on earth), a stint in NYC and my first time in Texas for an amazing conference.

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BUSINESS

  • After 2.5 years of rocking my side hustle, I was able to make enough to quit all of my additional part time jobs. And that’s working no more than 5-10 hours a week. It’s amazing what happens when you decide to show up and trust in the compound effect.

  • I launched my Live Your F*ck Yes Life podcast!!! If ya haven’t already, subscribe here.

  • I launched my wellness events & retreats company Empowered and Free. We hosted 3 amazing events and one retreat in the Chicago area this year and have some BIG plans for the next year and I can’t WAIT. This was honestly the biggest surprise of 2018. I had NO intention of creating a company like this. All I wanted to do was hold space for wellness, self care & community in a way that I hadn’t seen in Chicago via a social media movement experiment…and SO many women resonated. Just another beautiful example of following those gut tugs.

  • I had my writing published in a book, The Authentic Woman Series: Identity Rising.

  • I got certified as an emotional eating and mindset coach.

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LIFE

  • I was tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene and had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.

  • Spent 6 months of the year working on the most artistically fulfilling and empowering show I’ve ever been a part of. Haymarket the musical was such a gift in my life — and it was super badass getting to be a part of an original cast recording!

  • I went off the hormonal birth control after 12 years of being on the pill — read more about my decision to do so here!

  • I started working with a therapist after years of resisting it. Best. Decision. Ever.

  • I completed my first 90 day workout program, focused on strength training in new and exciting ways and truly learned what loving and appreciating your body is all about.

  • Celebrated my 10 year high school reunion — WHAT? So crazy.

  • Created and fostered the most incredible support system in Chicago. It’s been a year of nurturing and deepening new & existing relationships like never before.

  • Had a bon voyage to the boobs weekend and photoshoot with my 3 best girlfriends at my cottage and a surprise ta-ta to the tits party the week before my surgery in Chicago!

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This year was filled with unexpected magic.

Some things I planned but most? The things that brought the most to my life were FAR from anticipated.

And I truly believe it’s because I allowed space to explore them.

I listened to my intuition, my gut, and I went where I was called to go.


Did I “hit all of my 2018 goals”? Hell no.

That’s not the point. Some of them I showed up for with gusto. Some I’m still working towards and it’s only a matter of time. Some no longer serve my greater vision and purpose. And others I didn’t even know I needed/wanted.

All I know is that I followed my gut to the YES’s.

Because I know it’s my compass more than anything in the world.


Sometimes, it’s the most simple YES’s that transform your life in the most INCREDIBLE ways.

So this year, I hope you say YES. Invest your time, money, heart in things that will allow you to LIVE YOUR FUCK YES LIFE.

And notice how I said YOURS. Not someone ELSE’s version of that. YOURS. YOUR happiness. YOUR dreams. YOUR health.


Follow the gut tugs, my badasses.

It’ll lead you to LIVE YOUR F*CK YES LIFE TOO, ok?


What’s your intention heading into 2019?

Xo Amanda

Why I decided to go off the birth control pill after 12 years

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I know this is gonna ruffle a million and one feathers but you know your girl is gonna give it to you straight and this has been a huge part of my wellness journey 

This time last year, I remember sitting in a coffee shop with my friend Jen talking all about the birth control pill. She had decided to go off of it 6 months prior and was sharing her experience with me and it got me thinking ... "why have I been on the pill for so goddamn long?"

I mean OBVIOUSLY to not have a baby.

But the reason I went on the pill in the first place? I was 15 years old and my doctor misdiagnosed me with PCOS and said "here, just take the pill. It'll help your symptoms."

And she was right, it did. And I didn't question it (and hadn't questioned it until recently).


But that conversation got me thinking about how I've been putting synthetic hormones into my body for 12 years of my life without question ('cause ya know, everyone is on the pill, right?) and that I hadn't even thought to question it. 

And the past year, I've been going back and forth about it and out of fear of what would come of change, I never decided to make any shifts...until now. After all of the medical stuff going on with me and the incredible conversation I had with Claire Baker on episode 7 of the podcast and speaking with my doctor, I decided to officially go off of the pill. 

Now I want to preface this by saying this is in NO WAY a "you need to go off the pill" post. YOU are the only person that can make choices for YOUR body (and girlfriend, you 100% know what's best for YOU and where you're at in life), but I've been getting a billion questions about why I made this decision and what I'm doing now for preventative measures. 

So here is MY story based off of my personal findings, speaking with my trusted hormone experts, my doctor and MY BODY.


WHY I DECIDED TO GO OFF THE PILL

1. I'm hella health conscious (obviously). And after getting hella into nutrition, the body and how everything works, I realized how VITAL the health of a woman's' endocrine system (aka the collection of glands and organs that produce hormones) is for overall health. And I have been working so hard on implementing habits in my nutrition and day to day life to support this, but not my birth control method? My girl Jess over at Wholly Healed shares ALL about the negative side effects of going on the pill, so if you wanna learn more definitely check her out. 

2. When I found out I was BRCA 1 positive earlier this year, I was hell bent on doing everything in my power to arm myself with everything I could to prevent myself from getting breast or ovarian cancer. And I knew that certain pills have been associated with raising risks of getting breast cancer and I was NOT fucking around with that.

*what I didn't know? Being on certain BC pills like the one I was on (ortho trinessa or ortho tricyclen low) for upwards of 5 years can actually REDUCE your likelihood of developing ovarian cancer so that was a major WIN for me and my doctor. 

3. My gynaecologist recommended I make the switch. While I was pretty convinced through my own personal readings and speaking with hormone health experts, I also wanted to hear the input from my doctor and she gave me the green light immediately. 

 

OK SO I WANNA GO OFF THE PILL, BUT I DON'T WANT BABIES!! HALP!!!

I hear ya. Kev and I are NOT ready for babies anytime soon, so when we were looking for another option, we knew we still needed to have a form of birth control going .

Here are other some options other than the pill to consider:

Paraguard IUD  - this is the option I opted with for a few reasons.  

  • It's over 99% effective in preventing pregnancy, making it one of the most effective forms of birth control available. This is hugely important to us because if and when we do decide to have kids, we have committed to going through the IVF process so we can screen the embryos for the BRCA gene. 
  • It is hormone FREE. So your body goes through the ovulation process as it naturally would but the Copper IUD disrupts sperm motility and damages sperm so they can't join with an egg. Fun fact that I didn't know? Copper actually acts as a spermicide within the uterus, increasing levels of copper ions, prostaglandins, and white blood cells within the uterine and tubal fluids. Fun science facts for ya! 
  • It is good for up to 10 years and can be removed at any time.

Condoms - also a great option! 

Withdrawl...not so fun but if you're in a relationship or sex isn't on the table, there ya go! 

Fertility Awareness Method (FAM) -- if you want to learn more about this, I highly recommend the book Taking Control of Your Fertility 

 

HOW DO YOU FEEL NOW ABOUT YOUR DECISION?

So far, I am OVER THE MOON about it.

I stopped taking the pill and transitioned to the Paraguard 2 weeks ago, so I've yet to experience a full cycle (and have yet to see if my period is going to return right away -- I know quite a few women who waited a year for their period to return) so I will definitely do a follow up post in a few months but so far, it's been great.

The process of inserting the IUD? It sucked. Majorly. And I experienced pretty awful cramping the rest of the day. The heating pad, aleve, netflix and my pup Toby were my best friends that day -- so DEFINITELY do not go into work after you get it inserted. SERIOUSLY. 

But less than 24 hours later later and after a nights sleep, I felt good as new.

I've been following the My Flo app to track my cycle and so far it's been pretty on track! No spotting, weird cramping or anything like that.

And just knowing that I've taken action about this has taken a huge weight off of my chest.

 

So there ya have it!

As always, you know I'm an open book so if you have any questions, pop 'em in the comments below! 

And I'm curious -- what form of birth control do you use? 

Xo Cheers to living our f*ck yes lives,

Amanda

What IS BRCA and how do I know if I should get tested for it?

Earlier this year, I found out that I am BRCA 1 +.

If you haven't been following my journey (blog/podcast) then you are probably like DA FUCK is BRCA? Or at least, that's how I was when I first heard of it.

In the past month, I've had so many of you reach out. I've heard stories of those of you who are BRCA + too, those of you who are battling breast cancer or are survivors, and a hell of a lot of messages from those of you who didn't even know it was possible to get genetically tested for something like this.

So I figured I'd put together some facts & figures for you guys based on my own personal research and what my doctors have shared with me. So please do your due diligence on your own and speak to your doctors to discuss if this is the right path for YOU.

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THE FACTS 

SO, WHAT IS BRCA?

BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. When either of these genes is mutated, cells in the body are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.

Inheriting the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene increases the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers (although they have also been associated with several additional types of cancer). People who have inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 tend to develop breast and ovarian cancers at younger ages than people who do not have these mutations.

HOW DO YOU INHERIT BRCA?

A BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from someone's mother or father. Each child of a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes has a 50% chance (or 1 chance in 2) of inheriting the mutation. 

When I was in college, my dad got tested and found out that he had the BRCA 1 gene. Most women my age that I've spoken to who know about the gene were urged to get tested after their moms or close female relatives were diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer. I've only met one other woman (shoutout to my gal Ashley who just bravely went through a preventative double mastectomy) who has a similar story to mine. So if you have any history of breast or ovarian cancer on either side of your family, you may want to consider getting tested.

WHAT ARE THE RISKS INHERITED WITH BRCA? 

This varies depending on whether you have BRCA 1 or 2.

For BRCA 1:

  • 60-80% risk of developing breast cancer over lifetime compared to the 12% general population risk.
  • 34-44% risk of developing ovarian cancer over lifetime compared to the 1-2% general population risk.
  • 2-3 % risk of developing pancreatic cancer over lifetime compared to the 0.9% general population risk.
  • Increased risk in male breast and prostate cancer

For BRCA 2:

  • 50-70% risk of developing breast cancer over lifetime compared to the 12% general population risk.
  • 12-20% risk of developing ovarian cancer over lifetime compared to the 1-2% general population risk.
  • 20-30% risk of developing prostate cancer over lifetime compared to the 16% general population 
  • 7% risk of developing male breast cancer over lifetime compared to the 1.10% general population 
  • 3-5 % risk of developing pancreatic cancer over lifetime compared to the 0.9% general population risk.
  • 3-5 % risk of developing melanoma over lifetime compared to the 1-2% general population risk.

*stats pulled from the National Society of Genetic Counselors

WHEN TO CONSIDER GENETIC TESTING

  • You have a relative with a BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 mutation
  • Family history of breast cancer diagnosis at an early age (aka before 50 years of age)
  • Family history of ovarian cancer
  • Multiple generations with breast and/or ovarian cancer
  • Family member has had multiple primary cancers 
  • Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry (this one took me by surprise! I have Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry on both sides of my family)

FAVORITE RESOURCES AND SUPPORT

The Bright Pink Foundation -- A FANTASTIC resource to help you assess your risk and find a local group in your area for support. They also have a beautiful program called the Pink Pal where you get paired up with someone to help you navigate the process once you've found out you are BRCA + 

The Breasties -- a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting young women affected by breast and ovarian cancer through community and friendship. They host events, meetups and retreats and I've had the pleasure of getting to know Paige, the founder, and could not be more on board with what she's doing and the community she's building. #breastie love! 

Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (FORCE) -- education resource for more information and studies. Great resource!

 

So there you have it! 

Remember just because you KNOW this information doesn't mean you have to get tested. I waited 5 years and while in some ways I wish I had known sooner, I'm also grateful I waited because even a couple of years ago, I wasn't mentally ready to handle everything.

And if you ever need support, love or encouragement along your journey, know that I am always just a message away and I would LOVE to connect with you!

 

Xo Amanda 

Facing Fear Head On: A 20 somethings journey of being BRCA positive

FEAR.

For so much of my life, I let fear steer the wheel. 

 

I quit ballet after my first class because 3 girls made fun of me and I was scared nobody would be my friend.

I didn't ask the boy out because I was terrified he'd reject me and not think I was pretty enough.

I dieted and dieted in fear that I wouldn't be cast in shows because I wouldn't be "skinny enough".

Can you relate? 

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The past 2 years of my life, I've been on an intense journey of self discovery and a huge part of that was facing fear head on.

 

I faced it head on when I broke the diet cycle once and for all, and healed my relationship with food and fitness.

I faced it head on when I decided to pay everything I've learned forward and become a health coach and join a tribe of incredible women changing the freaking world

I faced it head on when I took a good hard look at my debt, made a plan and in less than a year, paid off all my credit card debt. 

I faced it head on when I went shirtless on stage for the first time in my life and faced all the body love demons that had been a part of my life for so damn long. 

 

And heading into this year, I knew that it was time to face a fear I've been living with for a very long time. 

 

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MY STORY 

When my dad was 18, his mum died of breast cancer at the age of 44. 

And growing up, I've seen how that loss took such a toll on him. I mean, losing a parent at all let alone at 18 years old is awful -- and something that I'm so grateful to say I've not had to go through myself. Because goddamn, my parents are my best friends and that's something even just thinking about breaks my fucking heart.

And all my life, I've had this little fear living at the back of my mind that I would have the same fate as my grandma. Call it intuition, call it gut, call it fear, it was super present in my world since I was old enough to understand it.

And that fear came to an all time high during my Sophomore year of college when my Dad got tested for the BRCA gene mutations (more info on all of this and real time reactions on episode 6 of the Live Your F*ck Yes Life Podcast) and found out that he was a carrier of the gene (and the only one of his siblings who is).

At the time, I didn't fully understand what that meant,  beyond the fact that I had a 50/50 chance of getting it, and honestly fear took over every ounce of me that I didn't want to know. I was 20 and the way I felt at the time was that knowing would just make it harder.

So I decided not to find out...until this year.

And you know what? Looking back, I'm grateful I waited.

Grateful because at the time, I was going through SO much internally that I think the information I knew deep down was true -- the fact that I also am BRCA 1 positive -- would have broken me in half.

Now, I'm 27, and while I'm still so young, I've lived a lot of life.

Hell, in the last 4 years alone, I've dealt with a binge eating disorder, orthorexia, planned a wedding, dealt with sudden onset anxiety, bought our first house, started my business, moved out of said home and lived in hotels for 6 months because of water damage, navigated job shifts and health issues with my hubby, started a podcast and beyond. 

And that's not counting all the odd jobs, shows, teaching gigs, travels, mentoring and everything else in my life. 

And while so much of it has been incredibly fulfilling and invigorating, a lot of my life has been filled with obstacle after obstacle -- as I'm sure yours has been too, because hey, that's what being a freaking human being is all about, right?

And while, at the time, those obstacles have felt INSURMOUNTABLE, here I am (and here you are) on the other side of it all, STRONGER for it and more self aware than ever. 

And I sit here, grateful for it all, because it gave me the courage to stop waiting.

To show up as a warrior in my life and put the worries to rest.

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So yes, I am a woman living with the BRCA 1 gene.

I don't have cancer, yet. But the chance of me getting breast or ovarian cancer is high AF.

And while that in and of itself scares the SHIT out of me, I've never felt more empowered. Because I get to do something about it.

I don't know what that is yet, but you know I'll be sharing it all along the way, mess and all, 'cause that's how I freaking roll. 

And I'm so goddamn grateful to have you along for the ride.

Xo Amanda 

 

p.s. if you aren't in our Live Your F*ck Yes Life Community, come on over and join the convo. We're all in this together babe.