Sunday, January 16, 2011

The Things We Pass On

Think positive! Positive is supposed to be a good thing. A positive attitude will take you places, I'm sure – and so I try to have one. But, positive has begun to have a weird connotation for me these days. Positive for breast cancer, positive for triple negative (ok, well that one's confusing), positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation. Yes, it seems that I am a mutant.

My parents passed on to me many things. Some beautiful, some cursed. They blessed me with an abundance of mostly unconditional love, some fierce loyalty and stubbornness that has its privileges, a  sometimes too thoughtful mind, an understated sense of style, a simple but profound respect for the natural world, compassion and kindness, and cursed me with a lineage of alcoholics, a bloody Irish middle-class work ethic (this is a curse, trust me), and an ancestry of inbreeding Ashkenazi Jews that apparently has made its way into my DNA.

Most people who test positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation have had a history of breast or ovarian cancer in their family. But, it seems I am an unwilling pioneer. My mother's mother died nearly at my age from what was thought at the time to be liver cancer, but I have my doubts. Ovarian cancer is notoriously sneaky, and I have a suspicion that her liver cancer may have begun in her ovaries.

And, so things are different now, yet again, more complicated. In the beginning, it seemed we were headed down that "easy" road where I could pop in for surgery, get my melted lump taken away for good, and save what's left. This is more tricky, indeed.

Before I knew my test results, I was prepared to do what needed to be done no matter what, to give myself the best possible chances of a full recovery, a full life – my gorgeous life – and so I will do the unthinkable, but not so unthinkable now. Just the next step on a road that is getting shorter by the day.

Sometimes I still think maybe they got the results wrong. All of them. And, I think of my beautiful, sweet baby girl, all grown up and taking a test like this some day, worried, wishing they were wrong, too. But, knowledge is power, and NJ will be armed and dangerous.

The tireless advocate Lillie Shockney at Johns Hopkins told me, before she even knew about my test results, that there would be a cure by the time my daughter ever has to worry about this, God forbid. I believe Lillie. In fact, I would walk through fire if Lillie was leading the way. I think that woman knows something the rest of us don't. She might be magic.

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