Tuesday, December 10, 2013

My Body, Myself, Part 1

I've had some very good health news in the last couple of weeks, followed by some not so great news.

First, the good stuff.

In mid-October, my gynecologist suggested she draw bloods in her office, despite the fact that I'd had coffee with milk and a power bar that morning. I think she knew if she gave me a prescription to take to a lab, I might never get there.

She had good reason to doubt me: I've been letting too many things get in the way of taking care of myself for more than a few years now. (Oxygen mask? What oxygen mask?)

She also brought up the idea, again, of screening me for BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations, which increase the risk of breast cancer. The one caveat: whether insurance would cover the hefty bill.

I was already pretty sure I was a slam dunk for having them. Diagnosed with breast cancer at 39, I'm of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, making me more at risk for said mutations. My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer at 48. My maternal grandmother had it, too, though I've learned that since her main diagnosis was leukemia, her breast cancer "doesn't count" in the genetic Russian roulette.

So I vowed three years that I was finally going to have the testing done. If it turned out I was "a genetically loaded gun" at increased risk for ovarian cancer I would, as I wrote so elegantly, "cut those potential time bombs out of my body."

Instead, it turns out I can be a very big talker. I dawdled. I figured, why find out? Was I really ready to have my predisposition confirmed and then decide whether to have prophylactic surgery--the removal of both breasts and my ovaries? It's something Jewish Israeli women are grappling with right now as leading scientists there push for what may be the first national screening for cancer-causing genetic mutations.

Back in 1999, I had a lumpectomy, followed by chemo and radiation, and have been monitored closely these past 14 years. The one thing that did weigh on me was how much it would help my family to know about our genetics, but to me this vital test became just one more to-do that fell by the wayside in an ultra-stressed life.

But in that moment at the gynecologist's, she tossed out the screening idea so casually, I ditched my clearly genetic predisposition to overthink everything. "What the heck?" I figured.

I'm glad I did. A few weeks later, I was shocked to get a call from her office, saying that I didn't carry either gene mutation. I still need to think about having my ovaries removed per my oncologist--ovarian cancer is much more difficult to detect and therefore more deadly, and as a breast cancer survivor I have a higher risk. But my family is relieved by the news, and I have one less thing to worry about.

Except that the bloods turned up one more thing to worry about. Ah, life is always full of twists and turns, isn't it? ...

And with that cliffhanger, please stay tuned for My Body, Myself, Part 2.


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