“There’s good news and bad news,” Sue began. “He’s Jewish.”
“Oh, Sue!” Her mother exclaimed. “But we’re Catholic! Nothing against him, it’s just that we’re so different. It will never work.”
“Oh, that was the good news,” Sue replied. “The bad news is that he’s a Democrat!”
I, too, have good news and bad news, though it is not so charming as Sue’s (whose family, by the way, grew to adore her husband).
First the good news: I have been published in Salon! Making it into a major publication is a dream come true.
The bad news is that the essay is about what some, but not many, people already know: I carry the BRCA mutation. This is the genetic defect that puts women at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. It was made famous by Angelina Jolie, who wrote in the New York Times two years ago about her decision to surgically remove her healthy breasts to reduce her BRCA cancer risk. Just last week, the Times published another piece by Jolie about her recent decision to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes to avert ovarian cancer.
Jolie’s first announcement came soon after I had finished nine months of treatment for a rare and aggressive form of uterine cancer, which was fortunately caught before the cancer had spread. My treatment included surgery (a complete hysterectomy, so the deadlier ovarian cancer threat no longer looms), radiation, and—just in case—six cycles of chemotherapy.
I had known well before my diagnosis that the BRCA mutation resided in a distant branch of my family tree and had mentioned it to my doctors, but did not pursue testing at that time. Two years later, my uterine cancer’s unusual cell type and the family history I had disavowed led the surgeon to suspect BRCA in me, not just in cousins I barely knew. So I met with the genetic counselor and went to the lab to have my blood drawn.
I got the results a week before my first chemo session in 2012. Sure enough, I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation (a slightly less risky variant than Jolie’s BRCA1).
So I have something in common with Angelina Jolie! But there the similarities end, for I have chosen high-risk surveillance over prophylactic mastectomies. It’s actually the more common choice among BRCA-positive women, but you wouldn’t know it given all the attention to radical surgery to remove healthy breasts. Neither choice is easy or risk-free. I felt I could contribute to an important conversation by writing honestly about what it is like to know that one’s body houses a potential time bomb as well as what went into my decision to go with the less-heralded surveillance option. And I am grateful that Salon agrees.
My BRCA mutation has been there all along. I have known about it since Halloween 2012. And now you know it, too. It is perhaps not the best way to find out, but I trust you will understand.
Please click here for the link to my Salon piece. I’ll be curious to hear what you think.