Two years ago, Ellie Ander of Chicago North Shore Moms shared her experience having a preventative double mastectomy, as well as her ovaries removed, after finding out she carried the BRCA gene. In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, we asked Ellie to share a bit about where she is now, physically and emotionally—and what she wants other women to know.
Please read our previous interview with Ellie, about her BRCA surgery, here.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What does this month mean to you?
Breast Cancer Awareness Month is really all about reminding women (and men, too, believe it or not) that if you haven’t felt yourself up in a while, it’s time. It’s time to get reacquainted with what’s normal for your body so you can track any changes you experience. If you feel a lump, it needs to be examined by a doctor immediately.
How has your health been?
Thanks for asking. I’ve been great! I have not had any surgeries since having my preventative double mastectomy in 2007 and my oophorectomy in 2016, but technically speaking I’m due for an implant swap out. The current ones are still ok so it’s not an emergency or health issue. Life is always busy so it’s been a challenge to carve out time to focus on that. Back in 2016 I revisited the geneticist to see if they had any other information regarding the BRCA gene. Nothing really new has come up. However, BRCA does increase my risk for other cancers so I just maintain a healthy lifestyle and walk a lot!
How do you feel about your surgeries now?
I feel great! TBH, it’s so nice to not get a period or cramps. I changed my hormone replacement meds so now I’m on an estrogen patch and a progesterone tablet and sleeping a little better than before. Mentally speaking, this is not something I’m consumed with since my surgeries.
You’ve been through a very heavy year as a family, including being at the tragic Highland Park July 4thparade. How did having been through so much before – including losing your mom – affect your perspective on this year?
Thanks for asking that. Yes, it’s been tough on so, so many levels. I don’t really conflate the two events. But I suppose you could say that my activism has shifted a bit away from breast cancer and towards gun violence prevention. I’ve become very involved with gun violence prevention efforts including joining March Fourth at the #passtheban rally in D.C. on September 22nd, and becoming involved with our local chapter of Moms Demand Action. There’s so much work to be done and so much opportunity to improve our quality of living.
We can’t wait to learn more and thank you for doing this important work. What else do you tell other moms or women about breast cancer and knowing your risk?
It’s imperative to follow the guidelines and get screened at the very earliest opportunity you can. It’s equally as important to know your family history if that’s possible. Because even those who are not BRCA but have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer still need to be watched closely.