May 16th for years has had a special place in my heart.
In 1985 my cousin Meghan was born. I was in the 6th grade and giddy to get to know her. I never could have known at the time that her life would be tragically cut short after a more than 4 year battle with leukemia.
Her feisty nature, her smile, her spirit, and her strength have always been an inspiration to me, and it was an honor years later, to be able to name my daughter after the spirited young girl who became an angel at 6 and a half, on my 18th birthday.
My daughter carries so many of the characteristics that endeared my cousin to me. She is the same kind of spirit, who lights up a room, and makes everyone smile by being around them. She endures medical procedures sparsely batting an eye, and accepts the reality of her life with grace.
Last year on May 16th I was at NYU hospital, just 10 weeks after my bilateral mastectomy, undergoing a complete hysterectomy. I knew that day I had the prayers of my family, and the strength of my angel by my side.
I have a “thing” for dates. I remember numbers. Maybe this is how my love of math shows through. I like answers, and things that are absolute, or make some sense. Maybe my recognition of dates, and anniversaries is a way of marking time – or maybe its a way of celebrating. These anniversaries that I remember – some sad, others bittersweet, have shaped me as a person. They are all pieces of that every evolving puzzle.
I thought about the surgery this morning. I thought about it being a full year since all my “girl parts” were officially gone. I thought of the perils of the hysterectomy recovery and how in so many ways this was a tougher surgery for me. Then I thought about my relief, and how much less of a cancer risk I am than I was a year ago. And I got dressed with a smile.
I thought about Angelina Jolie. I thought about how happy I am for her – that she was able to make an empowered decision to get out in front of her breast cancer risk. I thought about how happy I am that she has brought genetic testing into light.
But a few things have really bothered me.
PTEN mutations (Cowden’s Syndrome and the sister disorders) carry with them the same imminent breast cancer risk. I myself had been tested for BRCA1 years before I ever knew of PTEN. I was negative. The genetic counselor who tested me did not even have PTEN on her radar screen. I know its rare – I do. But I have to believe this is the opportune time to at least educate the medical professionals, if not the public, on the reality that there are other genetic mutations that carry imminent cancer risks. I am sure there are more that I haven’t learned about yet. Let’s use this opportunity to raise awareness not only of the “popular” genetic mutations, but of the others as well. Had my daughter never been diagnosed, by the well educated geneticist – it is likely I would not be here to write this today.
I am also bothered by the haters. You know the haters. The “Monday morning quarterbacks.”
They have crept out in quantity and I have a few words for them too.
If you don’t like the idea of a prophylactic mastectomy – then don’t have one. Plain and simple.
If you don’t like the idea of a complete hysterectomy at 38 because the alternative was 4x a year – yes you read that right- 4x a year SURGICAL uterine biopsies, then don’t have one.
When you live with the Sword of Damocles hanging above your head every day, when you have to go about your business, and work, and raise a child, and pay bills, and shop and function with the feeling of impending doom that is sometimes hard to shake – when you have a diagnosis of a genetic mutation that is not going away no matter what you do. Then, maybe then you and I can talk.
Until then, wish Angelina a good long healthy life. Look up “genetic mutations that cause cancer” or “The Global Genes Project” or “The National Association for Rare Disorders.” Get a feel for what we go through every single day of our lives.
You probably wouldn’t know us if you passed us on the street. We are some of the strongest and bravest and smartest people you will ever lay eyes on. We stop and smell the roses. We hug. We smile. We laugh. We get how fleeting life is.
May 16th will always be a significant day for me.
But, moving forward -so will every day. The first year is over. Now on with the rest of our lives!
In case you are interested…
http://idioms.thefreedictionary.com/a+sword+of+Damocles+hangs+over+head (Sword of Damocles)
http://globalgenes.org/ (Global Genes Project)
http://www.rarediseases.org/ (National Association of Rare Disorders)
https://www.facebook.com/ptenworld?fref=ts (Facebook Page for PTEN world)