When cancer hit the first time, I chalked it up to randomness. I was that one in eight statistic we all 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.
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