On Being Radical

Many people think I’m being radical about my food intake – no dairy whatsoever and eat mostly a plant-based diet. This decision was based on past health issues – breast cancer diagnosis right before my 41st birthday, and a small pituitary tumor and medium benign primary brain tumor discovered 3 years later.

Angelina Jolie made headlines this week by writing an OpEd about her preventative double-mastectomy. Now that falls under being radical. But I admire her for sharing this story on how the decision was made. She didn’t have breast cancer but genetic testing results statistically indicated she could get it – she carries the BRC1 gene mutation.

Three years ago I had the chance to do the same genetic testing Angelina had done and declined. The decision was based on the fact that I’m 25% Asian (my maternal grandmother was Vietnamese) and the results would only be 15% accurate for detecting a BRC1 mutation. The geneticist also wanted to test me for neurofibromatostis, a rare disorder that usually involves the growth of tumors on balance nerves on both sides of your head (bilateral vestibular schwannomas). They wanted to test because I have an acoustic neuroma (or schwannoma) tumor on the left side of my brain. Again I declined.

The cause of acoustic neuromas appears to be a malfunctioning gene on chromosome 22. Normally, this gene produces a protein that helps control the growth of Schwann cells covering the nerves. What makes this gene malfunction isn’t clear. So I didn’t see the benefit of doing genetic testing; there is absolutely nothing that can be done to prevent it and my tumor was already discovered and treated. I also decided not to have skull based surgery (serious side effects) and was lucky the tumor size allowed the use of new technology to have targeted radiation be effective. The tumor shrank and will have to be monitored for the rest of my life though.

We all have to do what we think is right for ourselves. I chose to focus on diet, exercise, getting enough rest…an overall balance really. These lifestyle changes have made a positive impact on my life and I feel better. If that is considered radical, so be it. It’s usually the radical choices that have the biggest long-term impact.


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