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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:

www.facingourrisk.org

FORCE LOGO

FORCE LOGO

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

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15 thoughts on “Starting Over ~ Solving the Mystery

  1. Linda,

    Thanks for the website information. I had never heard of it. I can’t imagine going through cancer twice. My mom had colon cancer several years ago and has to get follow up tests every 6 months to a year. It is horrible waiting for those results! Thank you for sharing your experience with us!

    Teresa

    • I’m always glad to tell people about FORCE. It is a small but growing — and important! — organization that reaches out to those with too much cancer in their family. You start to notice the more than usual amounts among cousins and relatives if this gene mutation has been inherited. I hope your mom continues to get great reports!

  2. Linda, All of your friends went through a lot of heartfelt pain for you when you traveled this road of so many sisters. I’ve had so many friends in recent years that were diagnosed and had the treatments and surgeries. One has to wonder if back in the old days that the disease went undetected, if women died of other things like child birth before they got cancer, or if it truly is our environment. I continue to question the way we grow food for the masses, and also what they do to our fish, poultry and meat. Yes the gene may reveal a tendency, but I’m thinking there has to be other reasons that percentage is so high. Roz

    • Roz — I do think in the “old” days, people died of other things before developing cancer. I’m so glad medical progress has enabled many diseases to have less effect on our lives. I think questioning our environment and our personal choices is a wise move. However, gene mutation is a fact and if passed onto a child, that child has to be aware and make choices, like Angelina Jolie did. I know it’s more than an ounce, but that old saying about an ounce of prevention being worth a pound of cure is true here. Thanks so much for checking in with me. Are you writing tomorrow?

    • Roz – one more thing, I forget to say how lucky I am to have so many friends in my personal life and my writing life who care. Writers do care about each other, about our readers. You need to have some kind of heart to compose emotional fiction!

  3. Dear Linda,
    I felt exactly the same way when I received the news. Shocked and surprised since I had been a healthy woman all my life and had done all the correct things as well. After enduring the lumpectomy, radiation and chemo and feeling strong once again, the past year has changed my outlook and perspective on life. This gene is not in our family and no one else has had this disease but me. I know that the statistics are high and am grateful for the early diagnosis and now the constant vigilance and follow up appointments. Thanks for this wonderful post which reinforces what I felt at the time. Wishing you health and happiness.

    • Hi Sharon — Survivors support each other. I’m glad that my post “spoke” to you. Feel free to post here at any time about this subject even if I’m not talking about it on a particular day. I don’t think any of my visitors/readers would mind at all. It sounds like you’re bouncing back, and that’s wonderful. Good for you. At this stage of recovery with everything behind us, we can’t let cancer rule our lives. That would be a waste. Thanks for writing.

  4. My mom had lumps in both breasts at the same time, which is apparently uncommon. Had lumpectomies, radiation, and chemo as well. Years later (at 75) she had cancer in various other places and eventually succombed after surgery (thankfully, peacefully, in her sleep).
    Cancer (and heart disease…and various other ailments) scares the h**l out of me. Yes, we try to eat and drink the right things, but the healthiest of people still get this random (?) disease. Thankfully, in Canada we get free mammograms; being over 50 and with a history, mine are every 1-2 years, with self exams daily (duh). There have been some scares, but so far, I’m d**n lucky.
    We are all on this planet for such a short time, and, like you, we try to make the most of every moment. I hope you continue enjoying all your moments, and I thank you for sharing your life’s journey with us. Here’s to many many MANY more years of hopefully ever after years – for you, for me, for everyone! – with books galore along the way, of course!

    • Laney – I love the post, and I’m glad you’re keeping on schedule with those mammos and self exams. Thanks for your good wishes which I’d like to sprinkle on everyone. A long healthy life filled with good friends and good books!

  5. When breast cancer came into my life, even though there wasn’t a family history I can’t say I was surprised. How Inflammatory BC was the cherry on top. The odds are devastating. And I went two years thinking I might have a chance to beat it. Alas, it’s back and popping up all over. Who know BC came in so many flavors and I just happened to get the rarest and deadliest.

    My biggest mistake during my treatment was returning to work this last tax season. I had a new office leader and she was a witch. I truly credit the insane pressure and insanity she inflicted into my life as the reason I wasn’t able to fight the internal battle.

    So my best advice…avoid stress at all costs.

    • Hi Judi — I am so sorry you have a tough fight on your hands. I know you’ll do everything in your power and with your physician’s advice to destroy this enemy if at all possible. We know that cancer hits at random, without reason. And that’s what drives us all crazy. The wanting to know why. I think you’re on track about the stress. I figure stress is involved in so many other medical conditions, that it can’t be a good thing for cancer either. In the meantime, I’ll be thinking about you, and hoping for a good outcome. Keep in touch.

      Linda

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