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Cancer Has Made Me Fearless

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With 2013 off to a trying start I was sure in need of some fun, enjoyment and good news. It came on Friday last week, when I went to a scheduled appointment at the genetics department at the Children's Hospital of Eastern Ontario (CHEO). I had been undergoing genetic testing to find out if I had inherited the breast cancer genes, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. I wanted to do this, firstly, for my daughters, but also for any other family members who would then be eligible for genetic testing themselves.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, in April of 2007, I had no idea that so many of my family members had been through breast cancer, or prostate cancer, the latter also increasing the likelihood of developing this cancer if you are a carrier of these genes.

As it turns out, my father's side hasn't been very fortunate. Two out of the four boys have had prostate cancer, and five out the seven girls had either ovarian cancer (again, the same genes) or breast cancer. What has really been of interest to those in the medical community who work in genetics, is the fact that myself and two of my cousins were diagnosed with breast cancer under the age of 50 (I was 44 years old when it was found). The interest level went up substantially in my case.

The time it took to go through an entire family medical history -- and my family is a big one -- was time-consuming, but worth it. I also had to give a few vials of blood in order for the doctors to complete their testing.

And so there I sat, in the waiting room of the genetics department, having a conversation with my ego. You see we -- more so she -- had decided that the probability of getting positive results and being a carrier of these dreaded genes would be shortly confirmed.

I had already decided what I would do in this case. I would not disclose this information to any of my family members, especially my daughters, until later on. My fear was that they may encounter difficulties getting life insurance as a result. Those that have a mother that carries the gene have a 50-50 chance of inheriting the genes themselves. I would also have to think much more seriously about having a total hysterectomy in the short term, as being a gene carrier as well as being on tamoxifen, would increase my chances for cancer of the ovaries or the uterus.

Being a cancer survivor for over five years now has significantly changed my perspective on life. I don't get stressed as much with situations, even serious ones such as this one, that are out of my control. The former me would probably have crawled under a rock with a blanket by now, a pair of earplugs firmly ensconced in her ears, and a thumb in her mouth. The rocking survivor me, however, was taking it all in matter-of-factly. It will be what it will be, and we will deal with the results when we get them.

This was the attitude I had when I sat down on the chair in the doctor's office, ready to get my results. And surprise surprise. I tested negative! I have to admit; even I was surprised. I wanted to celebrate right there on the spot. I sat and listened to the explanation of my results. I was also warned that there could be other significant findings in the future that could interest me. They would contact me, if that was the case. I asked for a copy of my lab report, and jokingly said it was worthy of being framed (hmmmmmm.....I may just do that). I left the hospital that day feeling lighter, and happier. I had good news for my daughters specifically, and my family. I didn't have to think of more immediate, but necessary surgery. And I received some much needed good news.

I got in the car as a tear rolled down my cheek. Not sad tears, but happy ones laden with a bit of relief. At least this chapter can be closed for awhile. Closed as much as it can be -- It won't be long until I start looking for answers elsewhere. I will bask in these new-found results, and ponder what I will do next as a survivor. I'm sure there are more avenues for me to discover, and more things to learn. Until then -- I celebrate life!