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Linda Barrett

Linda Barrett

Linda Barrett

Starting Over ~ Solving the Mystery

When cancer hit the first time, I chalked it up to randomness. I was that one in eight statistic we allBr Ca Blog icon 1 hear about: one in eight American women will get breast cancer at some time in their lives.  That’s 12.5%. Doesn’t that number seem large?  Random or not, after receiving the diagnosis, I drove myself crazy trying to figure out what I had done wrong. Somehow that random statistic became personal when it applied to me.

Was it the food I ate? The water I drank? The air I breathed? In every general way, I was healthy-not overweight, exercising several times a week at the gym, I ate mostly healthy foods. I had nursed my youngest child, and at the same time appreciated that  nursing was one of those factors that lowers the risk for breast cancer.

Accepting this new fact in my life took time. Several months into treatment (lumpectomy, chemo, radiation), I was still trying to make sense out of what can’t be explained. We, humans, like order in our world. We like to solve mysteries and puzzles. We’re uneasy with open endings and dangling threads–we’re itchy about unfinished books! We want to make rational those situations that have no reason, to understand what we don’t know. One plus one must equal two in our ordered world.

Acceptance of my situation did happen in time. Soon I was able to say, “I guess I was just that one-in-eight statistic.” I’d shrug, then chuckle. “Somebody has to be unlucky.”  I certainly wouldn’t wish this on anyone else.

Nine years later, when breast cancer hit the second time, no one in my orbit accepted that this was a random act of unkindness. How unlucky can one gal get? I certainly wanted to solve this mystery. Without any fanfare, my blood was drawn to be tested for the BRCA gene mutations.

BINGO! My mystery was solved. The culprit was the deleterious BRCA 1 gene. Shedding this light certainly brought closure, but also brought up a new set of issues. Facing a bi-lateral mastectomy would seem to top the list. But figuring out what, where and how to tell the children…ah-h, that  broke my heart. Genetic mutations are inherited, so my kids might be affected too.

No one in a family with this gene escapes the stress of waiting for the test results. No one escapes the fear or sadness, that terrible bellyache, that comes after being diagnosed as a gene carrier. I took comfort not in the diagnosis, but in the prognosis. A great prognosis…if I took action. If? If? Did I not want to live? With children, grandchildren and a wonderful, loving husband, the answer was easy. I had everything to live for!

So here I am, celebrating every day with Mike, my kids, and wonderful friends in a lovely place for “55 and better” I call the day camp. I will admit, however, that it’s great being on the other side of the diagnosis and treatment. I like living hopefully ever after.

If cancer seems to “run in your family” or if you have any questions about inherited breast or ovarian cancer, I highly recommend the only non-profit in American totally focused on inherited cancer:  FORCE – Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered. Log onto their website for all kinds of information about this subject:




As always, thanks so much for stopping by. I hope to see your for the next edition of Starting Over.





LEAVE A COMMENT AND YOUR NAME WILL BE ENTERED INTO MY JULY CONTEST. Prizes are a choice of two books, written by the award-winning authors of On Fire Fiction, plus a $25 gift certificate to Amazon or BN. Remember, some of these are hot, hot, hot, while others…not so much.  Your choice!

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Starting Over ~ The Pink Ribbon Sisterhood


It took longer to decide on a title than it did to birth this baby. And I’m not kidding. There were times I thought this work would forever be referred to as The Memoir. But I’m very happy to announce  that HOPEFULLY EVER AFTER: Breast Cancer, Life and Me will be released on October 1st, appropriately at the start of Breast Cancer Awareness month. I certainly hope the book will raise awareness not only of the disease but of what choices women now have to combat it.

So how did this book come about? Why did I write it? Let’s get the obvious out of the way: I’m a writer with fourteen novels behind me. My natural instinct is to take pen to paper or put my fingers on the keyboard and figure stuff out by writing. Two bouts of breast cancer is a lot to figure out.


If you shake a family tree hard enough, you might find Uncle Joe, the bootlegger during Prohibition. Or Aunt Hattie, the one who ran away with the traveling salesman. Or even cousin Elmore, who became a U.S. senator. Take a minute to think about your family. Is it not full of characters and stories? From the humorous to the tragic, people create their own stories simply by making choices and living with them.

In my family tree, you’ll find ten siblings who chose to immigrate from Poland to the United States at the turn of the last century. In their search for a better life, they brought with them their love of family, hopes for an opportunity to thrive, and a bunch of BRCA1 genes about which they knew nothing. The last item was certainly not a legacy they would have wanted to bequeath.

I'm in the sassy wig sitting with Jean Brashear at a Ninc conference. The straightest hair do I've ever had!

I’m in the sassy wig sitting with Jean Brashear at a Ninc conference. The straightest hair do I’ve ever had!

My grandmother was the oldest of the six young women and four young men who landed in Ellis Island a hundred years ago. They were a close knit family and started out living near each other in New York City. Soon, they formed a family society with monthly meetings which became annual events as time passed. But because of these annual gatherings, I got to know many second and third cousins who didn’t live near to me.

So when I found out that my cousin Pearl had cancer, I knew who she was even though she was part of my dad’s generation. And when I heard that my cousin Shirley from New Jersey had cancer, I knew who she was, too–a beautiful young woman, a kindergarten teacher who left two small children and a loving husband. And then her brother got cancer, too.  My cousin Blanche fought four different cancers. My family visited the cemetery too many times.

That ‘s when we acknowledged that “cancer ran in our family.”  But there was no pattern. Some of my stricken cousins had been born to the sisters, some were daughters of the brothers. If we had known then what we know now…  But “then” was the 1960’s and 70’s and 80’s. What seems odd to me even now is that all of the original ten lived out natural lifespans. My own grandmother also died of cancer in 1963 at the age of 76. But she had neither breast nor ovarian cancer.

In recent years, there have been other cousins and of course, my own two battles with the disease. So I wrote a book to satisfy my own curiosity. My need to know why cancer “ran in my family.” Frankly, it’s a damn good reason to write a book.

CONFRONTING HEREDITARY BREAST AND OVARIAN CANCER FORCE Logo is another book that’s important to me. This is a terrific reference book, clearly written and broken down into easily identifiable sections. It’s primary author is Sue Friedman, DVM who founded the non-profit organization Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered aka FORCE.  I’ve written about FORCE in the blog several times before because it’s the only non-profit organization in America that focuses exclusively on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. You can check them out at www.facingourrisk.org.

Because of my need to know, I researched my family and current achievements in medicine. Because of my need to share what I’ve learned in a fun way, I wrote HOPEFULLY EVER AFTER: Breast Cancer, Life and Me.  I hope you’ll look for it when it’s released.

FUN STUFF!!! Congratulations to the winner of the June contest: Laney aka Elaine.  Full disclosure – because Laney doesn’t own an eReader and lives in Canada, she chose to receive several of my Superroumance books (paperbacks) instead of the offered prize. As far as I’m concerned, the winner is the boss, and I’m happy to oblige. (The dollar value was the same).

NEW CONTEST!! For July, I’m giving away two books from a new group of choices by authors from On Fire Fiction. You might burn yourself–some of these are hot, hot, hot. But some are milder. Your choice of two plus a $25 gift card to Amazon or BN. 

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Starting Over~The Pink Ribbon Sisterhood

Br Ca Blog icon 1TOTAL RECALL–

Total recall. That’s exactly what I experienced this week when I glanced at a picture of a woman post-op with a bi-lateral mastectomy. Her name is Susie. She’s a blogger, an extrovert, with a wild sense of humor. So it was natural for Susie to put herself out there dressed in a tight elastic bra with two drains hanging down each side of her body.

With one glance, I saw myself, the ME of two years ago. Oh, God. that woman was ME! My stomach clenched, my body shivered and tears welled. My chest hurt. It hurt a lot, partly in sympathy and partly because it still hurts from scar tissue. I recalled the whole experience in a nanosecond. I shouted at the computer screen, “No, no. I can’t go back there.”  And like magic, the feeling passed, and I stared again, calmly, at the picture of another warrior who hadn’t volunteered for service. We’d both been drafted into this battle against breast cancer.

I’ve viewed many pictures of women with cancer. Many were the before and after chemo photos. You know the ones I mean: thick head of hair vs. baldness. I’ve viewed dozens and dozens of reconstructed breasts, the products of talented plastic surgeons. I’ve also seen many pictures of women who chose to remain flat after their surgeries. It’s always good to have choices.

But I have never, other than in my own mirror, seen a photo of a women within a week of having had bi-lateral mastectomy surgery. I have never seen someone else before the drains have been removed. Before the first doctor’s appointment. Before raising the arms is possible. One glance at Susie, and I was back there. Remembering, remembering…I remembered everything all too well.

I suspect that I experienced a taste of PTSD–post traumatic stress disorder–that our uniformed warriors live with for many years, some for a lifetime. My little taste wasn’t pretty. In fact, It was scary. Fortunately, I also recalled the love and support of family, friends and others who have walked the same path, and I was able to return to my normal, ordinary world without fuss. My computer screen soon reflected my current work in progress, a story which had nothing to do with breast cancer.

As for Susie? She’s fearless. With the love and support of her family and friends, “normal” is just down the block and around the corner.

Comments– I think courage comes in many forms. From the hero who sweeps a child away from an on-coming car to the single parent taking full responsibility for her family day in and day out. We all show our grit at some time in our lives, often many times. How are you fearless?  Is your courage obvious or quiet?  Make a comment and you’ll be entered into the June drawing (see below for details).


I don’t know whether Susie’s cancer is inherited or not, but mine is. I support the non-profit organization called Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, or FORCE.  This is the only foundation in the country that focuses on hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.  To find out more about FORCE, visit their website at:  www.facingourrisk.org    FORCE Logo

JUNE CONTEST!! Make a comment and your name will be entered into a fabulous drawing. Prizes are your choice of two of the six books shown below plus a $25 gift certificate to Amazon or BN. Browse them at your favorite etailer where you can Look Inside the Book.

As always, thank you for stopping by. I hope to see you for the next edition of Starting Over.


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