The BRCA gene mutation IS something that greatly increases the likelihood of getting breast cancer. While you can never rule out the chances entirely, you can do things to better your odds.
Fear is something I know a lot about. I learned about it as a 10-year-old when my mother died of breast cancer. I didn’t understand what cancer or death really meant. One was a word I only knew to mean sick, the other a dark resting place where people go to sleep forever. As a kid, I wondered if cancer was something I could catch like a cold. Every time I had a small virus or a cough, I was petrified I might suddenly disappear.
I learned that while you can’t “catch” cancer, I have what’s called a cancer history, meaning there was a chance I might carry the BRCA gene mutation — something that greatly increases the likelihood of getting the disease.
After my college graduation, my doctor recommended I get tested for the mutation. My mom was in her early 40s when she was diagnosed, making me a “great candidate” for the screening and for insurance to cover it. At the time all I wanted to be a great candidate for was a job or a room for rent in my first Brooklyn apartment. Testing positive would come with a very ominous suggestion — that I have both breasts and ovaries removed before my 30th birthday to prevent myself from getting cancer.
I inherited a lot from my mom, I remember thinking. When I looked in the mirror, I saw a younger version of her that I only knew from photographs. It had been 12 years since her death and while I didn’t have many memories of her, the ones I had were vivid. I remember the calm I felt when she would brush my hair after a shower and how she made me feel safe and loved when she would sing me to sleep.
My mother used to tell me that she loved me not just because I was her daughter, but because of my kindness and who I was as a person. She taught me the importance of loving and accepting myself, even at an age when the thought of being afraid of who I was, was beyond comprehension.
The fearful child in me didn’t want to know if I had the gene. The part of my mother that lives in me knew getting the test was the right decision and that no matter the outcome, I would still be beautiful and strong, not because of my body and my genes, but because of who I was as a person.
|Read on: Chronicles of Courage: Why Knowledge Is Power With BRCA Testing|