Hello from Boston, and happy Monday! I’m here with the BF for a work conference all week, and then we’re headed to the Cape for the weekend. I’m definitely looking forward to a week of exploring one of my favorite cities on the east coast.I’ve already unknowingly walked across the Boston Marathon finish line. As a marathon runner myself, I still find it hard to come to terms with what happened here just a few months ago. I’ll write more on my Beantown Adventures on Wednesday.
But, first, today’s post. Nope, there was no typo in the title. Typically, my Monday posts are light-hearted, fun and capture the randomness of my weekends in my new home. But, today, I want to talk about breasts. Well, actually breast cancer to be exact. Unfortunately, it’s been a reoccuring theme in my life.
If you read my blog, you probably know that I rarely, if ever, get serious on the SHLB. And, while I do discuss highlights of my personal life, I prefer not to get too deep on any particular issue.
Ultimately, however, living a (sometimes) healthy life involves taking care of your mind, body AND physical health. It means getting those annual exams and suffering those miserable moments in the dentists’ chair twice a year. AND, it means taking control of your health whenever you have the chance.
Over the past few years, BRCA genetic testing has become increasingly common, especially among women who have “high risk factors.” Without getting too scientific, for those of you who don’t know, BRCA genetic testing involves discovering if you have a mutated form of the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2. Women who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer – in fact it indicates as much as a 70 percent chance of developing breast cancer. That’s pretty big.
Most recently, this important genetic test was in the news because Angelina Jolie found out she had the mutated gene and therefor opted for the most aggressive precaution, a double mastectomy. Well, I’m no Angelina, but I’m a woman who knew she would have to face the music and take this test sooner or later. So, here’s my story… (p.s. – if you stick to the end, I’ve got some delicious cookies to share with you! I can’t keep it serious for an entire post.)
I Know Cancer
For as long as I can remember, cancer has been an extremely formidable force in my life. My maternal grandmother passed away from cancer before I was born, my maternal grandfather passed away from skin cancer when I was very young, and finally, when I was in high school, my paternal grandmother passed away from breast cancer.
So, needless to say, my mother was extremely cautious about protecting us from anything and everything that might possibly cause cancer from a young age. She drilled the whole “wear sunscreen” thing into my brain as soon as I could talk. Some of her “precautions” were a bit inconvenient. I grew up during a time when cancer really started to make its mark on the world, so pretty much everything was “scapegoated” as a potential cause of cancer.
Including microwaves. Yep, I was the only person in all of Omaha without a microwave. My mother absolutely refused to get a microwave, fearing that the radiation waves could cause cancer. Being that I was in high school and, at times, a moody teenage bitch, I, of course, ridiculed her constantly for this aberration. I often complained that I was “deprived” of convenient foods. I mean, if I wanted to make a Hot Pocket, I actually had to stick it in the oven for 20 minutes. Yep, life was rough.
Then, one night, I overheard my mother and father talking behind closed doors. They sounded concerned, and I heard her say that she “had found something.” I tried to push it into the back of my mind, so that I could focus on my miniscule high school problems, like prom decorations….but I knew something was wrong.
Sure enough, a couple weeks later my mother told me that she had breast cancer. The next few weeks were a blur. My mother was in the hospital, and my father was by her side (my brother was in college at the time). Because I was often making dinner alone, we finally got that microwave I had been lusting for. I remember sitting in the basement watching tv, eating my microwave meal and sort of praying. I’m not very religious, but I remember thinking, “God, if you could just make my mother healthy, I’d gladly get rid of this stupid microwave.”
I’m a crier, as I’ve mentioned on the blog before, but when it comes to the real heavy stuff, I tend to become a bit emotionally stilted. I remember my favorite teacher (and a friend of my mother’s) taking me into her office that week and asking me how I was doing. I couldn’t put it into words. I just sat there. And, she let me sit in her office all day, telling my friends to stop by and check on me.
I wanted to just hide in my bedroom, but, it was my senior year. I was student body president and had “important duties,” including running the basketball game “theme nights.” It was “Mash ‘Em” night the week I found out, so all of us cheerleaders were sporting our skirts, with painted white tees and camouflage headbands. Like every theme night, my friends insisted upon standing in front of the crowd to take a picture. I still have that picture, and when I see my face, it takes me right back to that night. How I felt so conflicted just going on with my life, like normal, as my mother suffered at home.
I vividly remember the next few months, in which my friends did everything that they could to help me get through the tough spots. Becca had me over for countless dinners, Emily was there for me at any time, day or night and Jamie was always on call to take me to a party if I wanted to get my mind off of things.
What I don’t remember is how my mother felt. I think that she had Stage 2 or Stage 3, and they decided to treat it aggressively, which meant a double mastectomy, chemo and radiation. After spending a few weeks at the hospital and then recovering, she began the difficult part: treatment. But, like the strong woman that she is, she never let on to all of the pain that she was feeling. She shut her door a lot to shield me from all of it. She lost her hair, but I don’t even remember what her wig looked like. I DO remember the sticky note she posted above the stove that read “TAKE WIG OFF!” It always gave us a laugh during the difficult times.
Looking back, I’ll always wish that I had “been there” more emotionally. She sort of shut me out of the painful parts, and I didn’t fight it. At the time, it was easier that way. I went off to college that September, a little less than year after her diagnosis. The years passed by, she was cancer free, and she became a “survivor.” However, she never liked to talk about it. Unfortunately, her arm permanently swelled from the chemo treatment, so she does have a constant reminder with her every day. But it’s small, in comparison to the battle that she faced nearly 12 years ago, and I’ll never stop feeling grateful that I get to hear her voice every day.
So, About My Breasts.
So, that brings us to MY breasts. For the record, I’ve never been too attached. I’m extremely narrow on the top, and while I’ve got curves on the bottom, I’ve got close to nothing on top. My earliest memory of these babies is from junior high, when one of the mature boys in my grade was teasing me and fake snapped my bra. He faked it because, unlike 90% of the girls in my class, I STILL didn’t have boobs and thus did not need to wear a bra. Oh, junior high memories.
Then, came high school. I patiently waited and nothing happened. I was I even remember crying to my mother and her telling me, “Don’t worry, everyone in our family has them!” She was wrong, and it became very clear that I’d never have a “nice rack.” I had to wear chicken cutlets and miracle bras with every single prom/homecoming dress to make them stay up.
Then, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and that’s when I decided my little boobies were sort of a nuisance. They didn’t add anything to my figure whatsoever, and NOW it appeared there was a decent chance they’d give me cancer.
At some point I just sort of settled upon the fact that I’d likely get breast cancer (with my family history), and I promised myself that when it happened I would get that double mastectomy, some reconstruction and move on with my life. I didn’t need ‘em anyway!
This was all before BRCA testing became well-known, and as soon as I heard about BRCA testing, I knew it would one of the most important tests in my life.
My BRCA Test
For the past few years, I’ve been meaning to look into the BRCA test, but not to sound cynical, most NYC doctors just don’t care. They have a large volume of patients and what to get you in and out as quickly as possible. Though they knew my family history, I never had a doctor that cared enough to discuss BRCA testing with me.
When I moved to the Hudson Valley, and as my 30th birthday approached, I made it a goal to find a good doctor who would take the time to explain the test to me. I actually looked into online reviews and ended up with an amazing woman at Mid Hudson Medical Group (Hudson Valley friends, email me, if you’d like her name).
As soon as we met, I knew that she’d spend as much time with me as necessary to ensure that all of my questions and concerns were addressed. Not surprisingly, she felt that BRCA testing would be wise for someone with my family history. She directed me to set up an appointment with a special nurse practitioner in their practice who handled only BRCA testing.
I made the appointment that day and was back at the office a week later. I wasn’t really nervous as I met with the NP. To be honest, I always thought I had the mutation, so getting this test was almost a formality to me. She explained the purpose of the test and what my options would be, should I have the mutation. But I sort of tuned her out. I already knew that my plan would be to have children and then go the Angelina Jolie route with the double mastectomy. That had always been my plan.
She then asked several questions about my background and family history with cancer. She explained that the test would be covered by insurance if I had enough risk factors, but that she would handle speaking with my insurance company. She said, in my case, with such a strong family history and also being Jewish, (another risk factor) it was highly likely insurance would cover test. She then explained the test to me, which to my surprise, was a saliva test. No needles! So, I spit in the container, said goodbye and went on with my day. Kind of crazy that my spit was about to determine whether or not I could get breast cancer…
She told me if insurance was a problem, I’d hear from her soon. Otherwise, she’d call me with the results. As the next couple of weeks went by, I sort of forgot about the test. Frankly, I was so convinced I had the mutation that in my mind, I was just waiting for the confirmation.
Then, one Friday as I was working on a blog post, I received a call from an unknown number. I picked up the phone and heard, “Is this Jamie?” I said “Yes.” She said, “I have the results from your BRCA test.” Before I could even think about it, she said “You do not have the mutation.” She paused waiting for my response.
I was shocked. “In case you didn’t realize, this is good news!” she exclaimed. I could hear the surprise in her voice. She had probably seen cases like mine a million times and probably thought there was a good chance I’d have it. I thanked her for help and hung up the phone, as I tried to process the information.
I then called both my parents and BF. They were also pleasantly surprised, especially my mother. She hadn’t wanted to tell me, but she was pretty sure I’d have the mutation as well.
I feel lucky that my results came back negative, but that doesn’t mean I’m going to stop being vigilant. Given my family’s history with cancer, I still need to monitor everything very closely, and at my next appointment, I’m going to talk to my doctor about how best to remain on top of my health.
This is such an important test, and I hope everyone has had the opportunity to at least discuss it with her doctor. If you’ve been affected by cancer (as unfortunately many of us have), then you know how powerless that it can make you feel. The BRCA test is a chance for you take control in the never-ending battle against this disease. I’m so glad that I did!
If you have any questions about the test, feel free to email me.
And now, as promised, on a much lighter note, here are the most.delicious.cookies ever. Dark Chocolate Chip Cookies with a little surprise in the middle…candy bars! These are by far the most “sinful” cookies that I’ve ever baked. There is absolutely NOTHING healthy about them, except that they make you smile.
We’re headed to the Cape later this week, so these puppies are for the BF’s lucky friends.
Thanks for sticking around for the serious talk today. I’m off for some more Beantown Adventures!
Have your heard of this test? Will you consider taking it?
What’s YOUR story?