I'm Too Young to Get Breast Cancer!
At 31, she learned she'd inherited the "family disease"—and then Tomomi Arikawa found an amazing way to fight it
Making heart-wrenching decisions
With no definitive genetic information to go on, families like Tomomi's can face the same heart-wrenching decisions about prophylactic surgery (removing both breasts as a preventive), aggressive chemotherapy, and childbearing as BRCA-positive women do, all without knowing which particular gene or genes might make them vulnerable.
The day Tomomi learned that the lump was malignant, she huddled with her mother and father (both semiretired education consultants) and her sister at the parents' apartment. Keiko prepared their favorite foods — grilled fish, rice, salad — "but everybody was too upset to eat," says Tomomi. Out of earshot, in their bedroom, her parents were also sharing fears that their daughter might now have a harder time finding a husband. Tomomi, however, was focused only on getting back to normal. Everything might be on hold for the moment, but after the cancer was gone — and she was sure it would be — she planned to pick up her life as a young news editor: searching for stories for ABC, traveling with the correspondents, enjoying pomegranate margaritas with girlfriends, and going on dates.
Always outspoken ("overly so, in the opinion of my family"), she sent out mass e-mails about her illness to friends, family, and colleagues: "The drama queen of the family has cancer, so you can just imagine what they are having to deal with right now. Oh, boy!" she wrote.
Given her family's disease pattern, with breast cancer striking earlier in each generation, Tomomi wanted to be aggressive with treatment — more aggressive, it turned out, than some of the breast surgeons she interviewed over the next couple of weeks. She sat quietly as one talked to her about nipple preservation, assuring her that he could make her breast look good enough afterward to be seen at a nude beach. She was having none of it. "I just wanted to get rid of all the tissue that could be a problem," she says. "Besides, I don't go to nude beaches!"
When she met Dr. Port at Mount Sinai, Tomomi immediately liked her. "I don't know if you can print this, but she seemed like a badass — she exuded a lot of confidence, but was never cocky. Her attitude was always, 'We're going to work this out together.' I immediately felt, If it's me against cancer, I want her in that foxhole with me."