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

Tuesday, February 3, 2009


It's no surprise that I'm a wee bit tense these days. After surgery last year, when they found precancerous cells on my fallopian tube and the possibility ovarian cancer lingering over me until the second operation proved otherwise...followed by an "ambiguous MRI of my leg bone in December"--well, a girl can only endure so much waiting and wondering before she cracks.

Friends and family have noticed that I'm a little more "on edge," a little quicker to anger, more easily startled. But they don't know the extent of my anxiety, which is more like a volcano waiting to explode. On the surface, I've resumed my everyday activities. But underneath a facade of normalcy, fear is brewing and spewing. Thoughts of death hover over me--mine and everyone I care about.

As a friend pointed out, I've faced death at a much younger age than the general population. Most people don't come to terms with their mortality until late in life. I think about death all the time.

Last week, for instance, my water aerobics didn't show up for two classes, which was unlike her. The gym didn't know what had happened to her...so I envisioned some catastrophe befalling her or one of her children.

When I finally tracked her down, I discovered she had been sick, and had, indeed, called the gym--the person she had spoken to didn't pass along her message.

I think about how my mind races to the worst-case scenario whenever something is out of the ordinary. I'm waiting for the next bomb to go off.

When I shared this with a friend who is Jewish, she referred to the Hebrew expression, "L'chayim" -- to life.

She said that although it's important to be outward-focused, it's also critical to take care of ourselves. She asked how I spent my time off from work-- if I did anything fun and relaxing...if I took time for myself. She said that part of the healing process is engaging in activity that brings us joy. I needed to lighten up, loosen up and have some fun. In fact, play, darn it!

So, I've decided to volunteer at a community garden this spring. I need to spend time outdoors with things that are alive and growing. I need to connect to the beauty and wonder and richness of the world. I need to celebrate life. L'chayim.

Monday, February 2, 2009

Loss of a Survivor

My mom lost a close, childhood friend the other day. This group of 12 women--who named themselves the "Sunshine Girls"--had been friends since high school. Some even from elementary school days.

They've supported one another throughout the years--hosting wedding and baby showers for daughters, celebrating birthdays and anniversaries, attending funerals of family members. They were there for each other through sickness, heartbreak and loss. They celebrated joys & triumphs.

Whenever they gathered, they rekindled their sense of humor and girlhood spirit. They vacationed at the beach each year, and took many roadtrips as well. There were always hints of wild times and scandalous conversations -- never to be shared with children and husbands. ("What goes on at the beach, stays at the beach.")

Their friendships spanned a longer period of time than husbands or children. Their bond was closer than family.

JoAnn Scott meant a lot to me, not only because she had been part of my life as a "Sunshine Girl" since I was a child, but also, as an adult, she was a breast cancer survivor who served as my advisor.

When I was first diagnosed eight years ago, she participated in a breast cancer walk in my honor. She reached out to my hurting and scared mother and gave her support. Fast-forward several years later, and JoAnn was on the scene again, advising me on surgery options for my mastectomies and reconstruction. She was honest, forthright and caring. She always had a smile and a laugh...a lighthearted spirit who loved life and people.

I mention this because I think of this culture in which we worship fame and celebrity, but have bought into a lie. Because it's the common, everyday people we know who make the most dramatic impact on our lives. JoAnn Scott was one of the people who made a difference for me.

The other thing that struck me about her death--besides being the first of the Sunshine Girls to die--is that she didn't die of breast cancer...but from a blood clot.

I think that, as cancer survivors, we get obsessed about dying of cancer. Although this is certainly a reality, we may not die of cancer at all--but from something entirely different. And all that worrying about cancer reoccurrence may be for naught. I might be hit by a bus instead.

All to say, JoAnn Scott played a huge role for me. I learned from her in life--all about breast cancer--and, I learned from her in death--that I can't obsess about cancer.

Therefore, I need to live as JoAnn lived -- with a bright, vibrant spirit that affected everyone she came into contact with. God bless her.