A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Monday, June 30, 2008

Banner Day

This is where the Halleluiah chorus from Handel's "Messiah" comes in. Ready?


My pathology report came back "clean." No cancer. Zip. Zero. I left the doctor's examining room and walked into the waiting area, where Gary was sitting. I smiled and told him the news. He got up from his chair, hugged me tightly, and broke down crying in front of everyone.

We walked out to the elevator lobby and hugged and cried some more. The news marked the end of a 7-year odyssey of living with cancer, and then living with the threat of another cancer developing. To end this chapter of my life seems surreal. I've gotten used to all the tests and doctor appointments and anxiety that accompanied it, waiting for the next cancer diagnosis. How do you return to "normal" life after all this? I'm not sure you ever do. Especially when your primary care physicians are oncologists. That's when you know you'll always be in a different category. But that's okay.

The first person I called to tell the good news was my mom, however, the phone conversation ended abruptly since I was crying so hard, I couldn't complete a sentence. With all the stress this disease has wrought on my life and Gary's, I think the people it's hit the hardest have been my parents.

I've heard the one death you never overcome is the death of your child. A parent always thinks they will die first, since that's the natural order of things. They also believe, erroneously, that they have the power to protect their child...no matter what age. I've watched the toll all of this has had on my parents, and it's been painful to watch their pain, their helplessness.

I recall last Christmas, when Mom pulled me aside and begged me, "Don't die before I do. I couldn't live if you did." Tears ran down her face. " This should be happening to me, not you. I've lived a full life, but you're too young." What do you do with that? How do you respond? I wanted to take away her agony and guilt and fear, but I was just as helpless as she was with my BRCA diagnosis. The only thing I knew to do was to take action.

And, that's my biggest advice for women who've had breast cancer or suspect they are a candidate for the BRCA gene. Take action.

Taking action has been the critical element in this entire cancer drama:

* It was because I conducted a breast self-exam that I found my lump. Even 2 mammograms two weeks later did not reveal a mass.

* It was because I forced the issue that I got further testing. And further testing revealed aggressive cancer.

* It was because I took action in selecting the very best healthcare professionals I could that I believe I got the best treatment for breast cancer.

* It was because I pursued BRCA testing last fall -- even when I had been told 7 years previously that my cancer wasn't hereditary -- that I discovered I carried the gene mutation.

* It was because I was so determined to deal with this "sooner than later" and get a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy to decrease my chances of future breast and ovarian cancer that they found pre-cancerous cells in my fallopian tubes as early as they did. Six months later, they told me, would have been a different story altogether.

Why do I tell you this? It's not because I'm such a noble person for taking action. Far from it. My natural inclination is toward procrastination. In fact, it's one of my specialities. And, I'm also not saying that taking action always gives you the perfect fairy tale ending. You may lose the battle with cancer because it's a nasty, hateful, deadly opponent that strikes witout warning, despite your best efforts.

But, your best defense is to do something. NOW. Not tomorrow. I've realized that Now can make the difference between life and death. I hope I can take this advice into other areas of my life. Wouldn't it make such a difference if I took action with all the zillions of other things I need and want to do...one day?

While sitting on the examining table, waiting FOREVER for the doctor to come in and tell me my pathology results, I prayed. I don't pray for "miracle cures" as much as I pray for courage to accept what God is leading me into and grace to walk into the future with love and compassion and gratitude instead of bitterness and self-pity and anger.

I then began praying for all the people who have cared so much and done so much for me during this entire ordeal. All the love, hugs, tears, phone calls, cards, emails, gifts, meals, car rides, doctor appointment buddies...it's so much. I've been placed on countless prayer lists in churches and small groups throughout several states.

My friends and my entire family have given enormously and sacrificially, and I feel greatly indebted. I want to be there for others in the same way people have been there for me during my darkest times. This experience has allowed me to see the power of us ministering to each other in the simple, daily routines of life. Maybe this is the most profound thing I've learned from cancer.

Other than it's nice to not be bald.

1 comment:

Elizabeth Pagano said...

Oh my, this is WONDERFUL NEWS.