The strongest memory I have of my mom was making jam with her in our big Victorian house. I was very young and she was very sick. At age 41 she was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer after using hormone treatments to become pregnant with my sister Elizabeth. Five years later she died. I was only nine years old and so used to having a sick mom that I remember wondering how other mothers found the time and energy to cook dinner.
I’ve grown to look like my mother and as I got older I worried I might have inherited the bad part of her along with the good. My family is pretty forthcoming about the fact that cancer runs in the family. My mother had four sisters and one passed away when I was seven of colon cancer. My aunts have been tested and one of them has the genetic mutation.
My fears changed the way I live. I’ve read lots of articles and don’t use microwaves, drink from plastic bottles, or use birth control pills. I eat lots of pomegranates and stay very active.
I also went to college and became an English major. I made friends and found a boyfriend.
I didn’t think about my cancer risk every day but it was often enough that I realized it was inhibiting my happiness and making it hard to plan a future. I knew I wanted to find out whether I’d inherited the genetic mutation so I could do what I could to combat it. But I also wanted to find the right time.
“My heart was pounding as I logged in. My results lit up the screen.”
Then I developed an ovarian cyst. Part of the treatment was going on the pill and when I told my doctor why I didn’t want to do that she recommended I take the Counsyl screen to find out once and for all whether I’d inherited my mother’s cancer. It was my senior year of college. By February I had decided to order the screen.
My results arrived one very cold day when I was in theater rehearsal. I ran out of rehearsal without telling the director and asked only my best friend to come with me. We got to the library and sat down in front of a computer. My heart was pounding as I logged in.
My results lit up the screen. Negative.
I turned to my friend who was looking at me and sobbing with joy. As we hugged I told myself I wouldn’t have to worry anymore. I wouldn’t have to go through what my mother did. I could live my life the way I want to.
Finding out has been liberating. My two-year-old relationship has become much more loving now that I don’t have to worry that it might work out and any children we’d have would be punished with my genes. I’ve always wanted to teach English but I held off on applying to Masters programs. Now I know I’ll go to graduate school but before I do I’m going to do something else I love – go west and go skiing for a year. Hey – I have time!
My family was ecstatic though my 17-year-old sister asked if that means she’ll have the genetic mutation. I said no, that’s not how it works. After I told everyone in my family the good news their first reaction was pure joy. The second was that now we have to get Elizabeth tested.