Monday, December 23, 2013

MY WAY of responding to a BRCA1 (Breast Cancer Gene) Diagnosis

I woke up the morning of Monday, August 26, feeling really anxious. I texted my friend regarding some work related stuff that was on my mind, but really the only thing on my mind was the phone call I was pretty sure I was going to receive that day. I knew that my social worker was just returning from vacation, so assuming my test results had come in while she was away the previous week, I knew I would be hearing from her before long.

Pretty early in the morning my phone rang, it was a local unfamiliar number,  I knew immediately it was my social worker. The conversation was short, to the point, and appropriate. She told me that I did carry the same gene mutation that ran in my family, and  reminded me that nothing has changed for me and my body from the day before. She then asked me if there was anything I needed from her and arranged to call me later in the day. During the brief phone call, my 2 year old used the potty and I applauded her. We chuckled at the contrasting levels of good and bad that were being revealed within a few short minutes of each other.

Then in the minutes, hours, and days that followed...

I kind of lost my marbles. Simple tasks overwhelmed me. I was supposed to get a form notarized for a new temp job, and I just couldn't seem to get my act together to do it. I made several trips to various notaries and each time I was missing something. Plus I lost my ATM card.

I felt validated. Breast cancer has shaped everything about who I am. I studied School Counseling in grad school because I was still the sad little girl who had a sick mommy. Since I was 23, I've been getting yearly mammograms, ultrasounds, and MRIs.  All my life I've found myself connecting with other women who also have strong breast cancer histories.  I now know that none of this was in vain, because breast cancer is in fact, very real for me.

I tried to be proactive.  At the same time as I got my diagnosis, I was also stressing about work and finances, so I thought this was an opportunity to make money. Knowing that the breast cancer gene was a hot subject, I looked for ways to sell my story.  I contacted everyone I knew who had connections to journalism or the media.  I came very close to being the subject of an article that the PR department of my hospital was to run in a local paper's "pink issue."  From these half-assed attempts to get my story noticed, my blog evolved. And thank god for that, because I found my authentic and often "edgy" voice (that has since mocked the “pink” movement and the hospital where I'm being cared for). My initial intentions for writing may have been somewhat selfish, but the byproduct has been unbelievable.  I could not have asked for a better therapeutic tool for myself.  This blog has saved me.

I tried to be a bad ass. I bought my first (and last) pack of cigarettes in 10 plus years.  They cost $10. Holy crap! I'm way too cheap to continue that habit.

I stopped sleeping. I was fine during the day when I was busy, but was scared of going to bed and being alone with my thoughts. So I just stopped sleeping. 

But mostly, I felt prepared. Deciding to go for genetic testing was not a decision I made on a whim.  Rather, it was a decision 15 years in the making.  I was first referred for genetic counseling when I was 23. At the time I couldn't fathom why anyone would go for genetic testing, let alone something as extreme as going forward with a preventative mastectomy.  "You can have the gene and not get cancer, or you could not have the gene and still get cancer, so why get tested?"  This was my mantra for years whenever the topic came up, and because of my family history, it came up often. Then, over time, my life changed. I became a wife and a mother, and my priorities changed.  Slowly, I started to reconsider. By the time I went for genetic testing, I was fully ready and prepared to get my results.  Even if they weren't good, I knew I would do anything to be healthy for my family. A mastectomy and oophorectomy were some of the many options I discussed with my social worker and genetic counselor, but they became the only options I was comfortable with. Also, I had already started to think about blogging as I prepared for my 40th birthday party bash. So had I not gotten the diagnosis, I would have had a hard time justifying the extravagant celebration!

And now for a quick update:

I don't know if any of my readers are actually keeping track of my appointments, but just in case, here is the latest: Once I was officially finished breast feeding, I returned to the breast surgeon so she could reexamine the lump that she had expressed concern about.  She said that it has softened, but she still wants to do a breast MRI, which will then determine the next steps.  Fingers crossed it is nothing, so that I can go ahead with the preventive surgeries on my terms. The other day I heard Sinatra's "My Way" and I broke down in tears. It is my one wish for the New Year - that I can do this My Way.

Monday, December 9, 2013

Fun Bags and Party Plans

This is a strange week for blogging. I have an appointment with the breast surgeon on Monday to discuss whether or not she wants to biopsy the lump that she found, you know... the lump that may or may not be something? But because the appointment is taking place  after I typically would post a blog update, I figured I would take this opportunity to update my readers on some of the planning I've been doing.

My New and Improved Boobs with Decreased Cancer Risk
First of all, I want you to know that as a rule, I call body parts by their real names, the anatomical ones. But when talking about fun-new-fake breasts, "boobs" seems like the most appropriate term. So my new boobs, or dare I say fun bags, (which I'm only saying because it works so well for this posts title) will be slightly larger than my current 34Bs, yet not big enough that they require the wearing of a bra. (Yuck! Hate them. I try to avoid them at all costs except when necessary professionally or for lactation reasons). Actually, I'm less concerned about the size of the new boobs and more concerned about their perkiness .  I want my boobs perky. Really, really perky. Even unnaturally perky. Because, let’s face it, they aren't real anyway, so I'm okay with them looking “so good they have to be fake”.

Planning for my 40th Birthday Party
The Location - Flat Bread Pizza in Somerville, Mass. The food is amazing, they always play great music, it's child friendly, and they serve adult friendly cocktails. Plus they have a bowling alley which justifies creating the invitations described below.

The Invitations - Since the party is at a candle pin bowling alley and it's in celebration of both my 40th birthday and a reveal of my new and improved boobs, the invite will feature a photograph of me holding bowling balls up to my chest. Of course the balls will have the numbers 4 and 0 displayed on them. Clever right?

The Look - Keri Russel as she appeared on Watch What Happens Live:

1. My hair could actually do this.
2. Because I love anything that has anything to do with Andy Cohen or Watch What Happens Live.
3. I think a low cut jumpsuit is perfect for both bowling and showing off my new body.
4. Keri and I have a lot in common.  Yeah, I know I already did the celebrity comparison thing with Angelina Jolie ( but in the late 90's, I was told I looked like Keri (or more specifically her character Felicity) a lot. I think it was because we both had long curly hair and I, like Felicity, have the tendency to get stuck in my own head. So it seems that emulating Keri Russell's look is a good fit, especially when she looks so damn hot.

The Entertainment - As you might recall, on the night I found out I was brca1 positive, my husband and I stayed up all night long. That night we created a list of dream bands/singers I would want to play at my 40th birthday party (this was in August before Lou Reed passed away.) So here is that dream list, in no particular order:

1. Billy Idol
2. Lou Reed
3. The Replacements
4. The Pixies
5. Duran Duran
7. Frank Turner
8. Corey Hart
9. Bruce Springsteen
10. Iggy Pop

I know I have a few musician friends out there, so if anyone knows anyone who can hook a sister up, it would be much appreciated.