Wednesday, December 31, 2008

From the Mouths of Babes

As this holiday season winds down and the economic turmoil continues, it is refreshing to listen to the voices of the innocent. As I put my six year old to bed the other night she had a wonderful idea. "Mommy, when I grow up and move into my own house I think you should sell your house and move next door to me. What we will do is drive down a street and pick two houses that are exactly alike. We will buy them and then I can see you everyday even though I am a grown up." I loved this logic.
Somewhere in her six year old mind, it occurred to my daughter that I live a long way from my parents. My husbands family is closer but they certainly aren't down the street. It would be nice to have family close by. As it stands, my children see my parents for short intense visits where we try to cram as much "grandparenting" in as we can for them. It would be nice to have more time on a regular basis.
As she devised this plan, I became a little bit wistful. Where will I be twenty years from now? Hopefully I will be a vibrant sixty five year old. I recently saw my breast surgeon and asked him about my statistics for recurrence. Not one to sugarcoat anything, he said my risk is minimal now but I really won't know if I have licked this thing until I am thirteen years out from the diagnosis. Thirteen years! Wow. That is a long time to be on pins and needles.
For now I will try to put this in the back of my mind and dream about buying a house down the street from my daughter when she is grown and has her own children. I have a ways to go, but I am going to take it one day at a time.

Monday, December 29, 2008

Will I ever Laugh Again?

I finally watched the new "Sex and the City" movie the other night ( I know I am behind the times but the television is usually dominated by the youngest members of our house) and I was struck by something that the character Carrie asked. After having been jilted at the altar by Mr. Big and spending days in bed, she said, "Will I ever laugh again?" What a great question for all of us who have faced adversity. The character Miranda responds that Carrie will laugh again when something is really funny.
The question made me think about how much I really laugh nowadays. I think it is harder for me get a good belly laugh. I am tainted. I look at pictures of me before I had cancer and there was definitely a glint in my eye. Now, in the same Christmas picture, there is a hesitance, a deep knowledge and understanding that this can all be taken away in the blink of an eye. Better not to be to foolhardy and laugh too much. Instead, I try to find joy in the simple moments of life and savor them. It is deeper and more rewarding to try to do this. I am not about laughing and small talk so much anymore. I guess that is good but it is sad too. My eyes show it and I feel it. The feeling of never really letting go because you know that you are different from everyone else now. Your body could be secretly working against you and all you can do is wait and see.
I hope that someday that glint in my eye will return but for now I will just be happy that I can laugh a little bit with my friends and family even if it is with trepidation.

Thursday, December 18, 2008

We will all see how resilient we really are

As I drove in my car the other day(which I do a lot as the mother of school age children), I was listening to a radio program and there was much discussion about resilience. I have not been able to stop thinking about the relevance of this word as the holidays approach and our country is experiencing such economic turmoil. This is truly a time that will test the resilience of all of us. What is resilience? Webster defines it as "an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change."

For those of us who have battled cancer or other diseases we have had our resilience tested already. We have struggled our way through surgery and chemotherapy and know the hardship of physical illness. But there are others who will be tested in different ways. I know some people who are on the brink of personal financial crisis and their ability to adapt may be tested soon.

How do we prepare our children to be resilient in a society that gives children everything they could ever want? In spite of the fact that I was ill, I am not sure that my children easily adapt to misfortune. They get upset if things don't go their way. My son was very distressed because I forgot to give him a few dollars for the toy sale at school. It was a simple oversight on my part but it ruined his day. He felt left out and blamed me for his misery. I wonder what, if anything, I am teaching my children when I get reactions like this. As we all know, there is going to be less of everything this year in this economy and perhaps this mistake on my part was actually a good teaching moment. Some families don't even have money for a toy sale. Maybe our mothers had it right all along. Perhaps I need to use the starving children in Africa line a little bit more to get my point across.

Regardless of this, we will push on and hopefully dig deep in our hearts to deal with the hand that we are dealt. It is through inner strength and the help of others that we will continue to persevere in spite of obstacles like illness and financial difficulties in this holiday season.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Who should Get Genetic Testing?

I have had a few people ask me lately about genetic testing. I think this is such a relevant topic because so much of the research into the causes of breast cancer and other diseases is centering around genetics with the discovery of the human genome. The human genome is a project which mapped out all of the DNA in the human body. As a result, we know what some genes look like.
In breast cancer, there are two known genetic mutations. They are the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. They account for approximately 10%-15% of breast cancers(depending upon your source of information). Carriers of these genes have as high as an 85% chance of developing breast cancer. There are certain people in the general population who are at higher risk for carrying on of the genes. They are:
-Women or men with several relatives with breast cancer
-Women or men with relatives diagnosed with more than one primary breast cancer
-Women or men who have a relative with ovarian cancer
-Women or men with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage
-Women or men who have a male relative with breast cancer
Women and men can both carry and inherit the gene. For example, my friend found out she had the BRCA1 gene which she inherited from her father. Her aunt, her father's sister had breast cancer. He passed the same genetic mutation that his sister had onto his daughter. She had her children and then decided to have a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy and an ooperectomy to mitigate the risk of breast cancer in her future.
Should I get genetic testing? My situation falls a little bit into the gray area here. My brother had colorectal cancer when he was thirty eight and I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was forty four. Do we have BRCA1 or BRCA2? I will let the genetic counselors make the call on that. What we probably have is some genetic mutation that has yet to be discovered so they may not recommend testing at this time because the test runs approximately $3,000. The insurance companies don't really want to pay for someone who is not considered to be high risk to have the test.
If you are concerned about a strong family history of breast cancer and the possibility of carrying one of the genes, I would suggest that you talk to your gynecologist about the likelihood that you are a carrier. They know your individual situation best and can steer you in the right direction.
As for me, I am going to fill out the paperwork and hope for the best. I would like to know if I am a carrier primarily for the sake of my children and their future.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Walking For the Cure

A week and a half ago, my friend Katie walked in my honor in the Breast Cancer 3 Day benefiting Susan G. Komen for the Cure in San Diego. I was quite touched by this gesture. At first I was surprised that I could motivate someone to walk sixty miles in three days,but then I remembered that Katie had been at my side right after my mastectomy. She had seen my suffering first hand. She wrote a brief description of what she witnessed on her Breast Cancer 3 day web page and the story even brought me to tears. It was and is hard to believe that was me just one year ago.
Katie was on a team called Walk Now, Wine Later! There were fifty five members of her team and they raised over $176,000. San Diego alone raised over $11 million from the 5,000 people who walked.
I asked her to briefly describe the event and she said it was like going to cheerleading camp with thousands of strangers dolled up in pink. She described the mood of the event as festive and positive but also serious. These women are walking to find a CURE for breast cancer, sooner rather than later. She said that over the three days many walkers stated that the world should feel like this more often. A world filled with love.
She described the end of the walk in the following words. "When the survivors walked the final block of the the 3 Day, they walked through a tunnel made up of the 5,000 women and men who walked. Each of those walkers held one shoe high in the air to toast these strong and brave survivors. At that moment, I knew that this was much more than a fundraiser. It was a powerful wave of inspiration and a clear sign of a CURE to come."
Thank you Katie and all of you out there who are walking to find a CURE. For our daughters and their daughters, let's hope that it is soon.