October 23, 2007

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was about 16 years old.

She died when I was 17.

She hid the lump from us (and herself) for who knows how long. And I’m sure the pack a day of Luckies didn’t help either.

She refused aggressive treatment because she didn’t want to lose her beauty.

She made choices.

Poor choices that killed her, but choices nonetheless.

It was her choice to refuse more chemo, to refuse the mastectomy, to refuse more radiation. It was her choice to give up the fight. I wish to whatever guides us that she made different choices. But I was too young and naive to know what the hell was going on to even suggest she fight. For me if not for herself.

I have a choice too.

And I have started to think pro actively for the first time ever. I have begun to give myself (almost) monthly breast exams. I can go for my yearly mammograms and OB/GYN visits. I can try to eat healthy and exercise. And I try.

I am getting a polyp removed next month.

Before I became a mother, I did some of these things regardless of the outcome. And I also used to say, when I got breast cancer, I would not fight. I had nothing to live for anyway. I was weak and motherless…what did I know?

However, since I now have a daughter, I think harder about my choices. Especially choices regarding my health.

And I think about all the mothers out there with this disease who are fighting every day for more time. I would fight like nobody’s business, I do not want my daughter to be motherless.

Since my mother died from breast cancer and my grandmother (her mother) died from another women’s cancer, I fear. I fear that I will get it too. It is on my mind 24 hours a day. All year long. And I worry. And I worry for my daughter’s future too…is this our genetic destiny?

But I also have a choice to go for genetic testing to see if I am a carrier of this disease. And that choice I can not quite make.

What do you do with this information once you have it? If you are a carrier, are there steps to take to avoid the disease or is it an automatic life sentence? Does your insurance drop you once you find out that you may be costing them billions to treat a disease that you may get?

On the other hand,

If you aren’t a carrier, does that guarantee that you won’t get it at all? Does this pave the way for false hope?

I can’t decide if it pays to know, or if knowing will make me worry even more than I do now.

A choice should be made, for my daughter. For my own sanity (whatever there is left of that).

But like my mother, I find it hard to really want to know the truth. Denial is our middle name.

What would you do?



  1. Wow. Strong post. I agree, FIGHT if you can. But I don't think I'd want to do the genetic testing… I've given alot of thought to this since my grandmother died of alzhiemers and my mother has battled breast cancer. Everyone has to make their on choice, as you say. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Wow – that’s a tough call. Good for you for doing all of that for your health! I think I might do the testing IF there’s something I can do about it. If it’s just stressful information then maybe not?

  3. Great, powerful post.

    As I always say, “knowledge is power.”

  4. I agree w/ mamalee. I would want to know.

  5. I don’t think I’d want to know. Other than a preventative mastectomy, is there much you could do with the info besides worry?

    My grandmother is a 25+ year breast cancer survivor. She was/is a fighter and I’ll be one, too, if the time comes.

  6. I’m a ‘forewarned is forearmed’ kind of person. I want to know, no matter how bad. Like someone above me said, Knowledge is Power. I really believe that.

  7. Me too, I would want to know. I think.

  8. Another touching post. Hmmm, what would I do? I’m not sure. Having seen my Grandma was healthy and active two months before her death and then “went down hill” once she coundout, I’m not sure what is best, knowledge or denial. She did one round of chemo and was gone before her scond treatment. I often wonder “Would she still be alive if she didn’t get treatment? Did the treatment kill her? If she hadn’t got treated would the Cancer have taken her just as quickly and would she still be gone today?”

    Its hard. But I think b/c I’ve got two girls I’d fight. I’d fight to live for them.


  9. What a powerful post. I think it is different for so many people. I had a friend who fought for many years after much radiation and removal it eventually came back a second time. She said she had no fight left in her for the second time around and declined treatment.

    I pray that whatever the case you will do what is best for you and your family.

  10. Wow, that is certainly not an easy question.

    My grandfather died from cancer. Less than two years later, my grandmother had it. After seeing how he had suffered through the radiation and chemo treatments, she chose not to do them. She said she had lived a good life, and she was ready to be with him.

    However, with regard to knowing in advance, I don’t see how that would help. If it is in your “genes,” you can’t do anything to prevent it that you aren’t already doing.

    It may sound a bit morbid, but everyone dies from something. You can’t allow yourself to worry about those things. Enjoy each and every day with your family (INCLUDING THE DOG).

  11. Great, great post JJ.

    Personally, I think education and awareness are the 2 most important allies in dealing with cancer.

    Even if you don’t have it.

    So yeah….I’d want to know.

    I’m sorry about your Mom.

  12. you are such a strong woman. your daughter will be too. I am not sure you realize how strong you are.

  13. Huh. This is a great post. You sure were young. I am so sorry. I was about 10 years older than you were when my mother decided, made the choice, not to do anything to try and save herself. That I just do not get. Anyhooooo.Her smokes were Rothmans, not Luckies.

    As to what I would do, I don’t know. Denial for me is a very powerful force.

  14. I can’t say I’d know what to do because I’m not in that situation. I’d like to think I’d get the test done but you need to do what’s right for you. What ever that is.

  15. I would think I would want to know, just so I could empower my child with knowledge. My mother burried her head in the sand. And now my sister and I both have tons of health problems that are genetic that we found out we got from her.

    We could have had the knowledge and done things differently so we could have led a better, pain free life. But instead it was sorta thrust upon us.

    I worry about dying young. My Grandmother died at the age of 62, and my mother at the age of 60. Although they both were from lung complications from years of smoking. And I stopped smoking when I was still in my 20’s. I’m hoping I made the right choices.

  16. I am not sure if I told you this … If I have sorry my brain is mush. I was swimming a couple weeks ago and saw a woman like in her 60’s that had had a partial (?) mastectomy. She was beautiful. I thought of you. Nice eh? We are all naked and I am thinking of you ๐Ÿ˜› But I thought there are a lot of women that survive. Sadly you Mom wasn’t one that did, but her life and death is inspiring so many to be aware of their bodies, not be denial and be healthy, THROUGH YOU. YOU are doing that. My Grandfather had EIGHT different bouts of cancer. He kept fighting them off one by one. Then at 92 he got lung cancer and passed away.
    Am I freaked that I will get cancer and die? HELL YEAH. But I am more concerned with what I am doing now. You have some Fabulous memories with your mother, that is what I want for my kids. No matter if I live for a year (God forbid) or till I am one hundred, when my kids think of me, I want them to think happy thoughts.
    Since we have no control over how long we are on this path, focusing on what we can do on the path, is what we can control.

  17. I saw a TV special the other day that said that only 20% of breast cancers are hereditary. Which is an interesting statistic considering that we are not asked to get screened until we’re 40 or it runs in our family.

    If it were me, I’d try to find out as soon as possible to increase my chances of survival.

    YOU know what it’s like to lose your mother at a young age. Would you want Fa to go through the same thing? I think you should always get checked out to be on the safe side.

  18. Wow chica Heaaaavy! I think that you taking the necessary steps to be more healthy. I totally see where you are coming from! I was diagnosed with PKD(Polisystic Kidney Disease). It’s just like it sounds, my kidney are inundated with cysts. They can rupture and explode in a sense to make room for new ones. Through time it will eventually rob me of all kidney function forcing me to go on dialysis and/or transplant. My mother has had her new kidney (Herman) and my aunt has had two transplants. Both are doing well. I say this to say that I made the concious choice to get healthy for Miles’ sake, HE needs his mama and I in a sense need him as well!
    J I feel Like we are the new Salt and Peppa, but really in our case we’re more like Salt and Salt. Ha Ha.
    There is no known cure for my disease and I worry that I have given my son the disease as well.

    If all you are going to do is worry I wouldn’t find out. If I know you would be obsessing over it as would I.

    Or maybe ask for the info be written and then seal it and burry it in the yard, then dig it up when you are ready!

    We have to stay strong! LUv ya sis!


  19. I would want to know. You can’t fight what you don’t know about.

  20. breast exams, annual check ups, mammo’s, eat healthy – but don’t deny yourself.

    AND….lay down your worries and turn around and fill your heart with joy.

  21. I would want to know. It would probably make me fight harder for my children and myself.

    You can’t fight something invisible, and cancer is certainly NOT invisible. I think about it each day too since my grandmother died from breast cancer.


  22. 1) The short answer? What Pamela said.

    2) The less condensed version…my personal thoughts? (I wish we “knew” each other better…obviously, I’m here after “seeing” you elsewhere…my thoughts would mean more…)

    I lost my mom to breast cancer (and a host of others ๐Ÿ˜ฆ ) when she was 38 and I was 9; she fought it courageously for 5 years before her death, enduring barbaric treatments and surgeries. She lost her own mom to breast cancer when she was an infant and her mom was early 20s. My sister has just celebrated ten years of health following HER diagnosis and treatment.

    I’m in somewhat the same boat you’re in.

    JJ, I don’t live in fear of this. While I live in the ominous shadow of cancer, I won’t let it “have” me. I do the same things you do (self-exams, but not nearly enough), annual gyn exams, mammograms (I have those done six months after my gyn visit so I’m “seeing” someone twice/year). And yes, I’m more interested in my health for the sake of my children (and husband) because it doesn’t just affect me. I know what it’s like to grow up without a mom.

    Living in fear of it, while natural and understandable, gives cancer some kind of dominion over your life. It might one day become a part of my life physically, but I refuse to give in to that possibility now. THAT would rob me of LIFE; worrying about it doesn’t change a thing.

    My sister WAS tested for the known breast cancer genes, but even before the outcome, I didn’t think I’d follow in that testing. Having them doesn’t guarantee I’ll have cancer, not having them doesn’t mean I won’t get it, either (btw, she tested negative).

    I don’t mean AT ALL to trivialize or diminish your concern, I hope to encourage you instead. I’m sure my faith factors into my attitude (I’m convinced IF I ever had cancer, there’d be a damn good reason why I got it…), believing there’s purpose and intent behind the random happenings of this crazy world makes it more livable today.

    Anyway…I hear ya…I hope for you…and thanks for a thoughtful post :).

    (sorry if, as a “newbie”, I’ve said too much…forgive me? ๐Ÿ™‚ )

  23. Thank you for reminding me. I mean it.

  24. Is it wierd that I thought about you and your boobs the other day?

    Seriously – you need to do what’s right for you? Me? I don’t know what I’d do. I think I’d fight it. With everything I have.

    But I’m me. You are you. You do what you need to do.

  25. False hope? Oh no hon, that ain’t real. It can only be false if it’s a false belief in your heart.

    This is going to sound out there…way out there…but have you read anything out there on the psychological root of disease? I know it sounds kooky, but it still made me go hmmmmm. Christine Northup and Caroline Myss are two who come readily to mind for me. Dr. Northrup is a MD and she seriously believes in treating the MIND and body.

    Anyhoo, I don’t know if you’d be interested in that but I thought I’d mention it anyway.

  26. Praying for you. Really.

  27. Oooh, that’s a tough question. I would want to live in ignorant bliss but it’s not in me no matter how much I wish I had the ability to deny ugly truths. I would want to know because I’m a chronic worrier and in my mind I would have myself dead and buried. Knowledge gives me back my control. Ultimately though you will be the only one who can make this decision and it’s a tough one.

  28. Wow. girl. You went through so much at such a young age. Man oh Man I don’t know what I’d do. I think I’d want to know. I really do.

  29. This is a tough one. I would probably not get the test done. If cancer is in your genes it’s not a sure thing that you’ll get it and it it’s not, it’s not a sure thing that you won’t. I guess the things I would consider are: Will it save/cause you an worry? Will it change anything about the way you love your life today?

    There is an extremly high incidence of cancer among the women in my family (even though there’s no genetic reason for it. I admit that I often find myself thinking about “when” I’ll get cancer and not “if”. It’s a yucky way to think.

    I hope you’re able to come to a decision that brings you peace of mind.

  30. I would not want to know. I would do all that I could to keep myself healthy, mitigate my chances, and stay on top of anything once or if it was discovered. But, I would not want the genetic testing.

  31. What a wonderfully written post. Thanks for sharing all of that with us.
    It is so hard to know what I would do, really! I think I would opt out of the testing, because I believe that you should live life to the fullest regardless. I also think that if I found out that I would have a really hard time dealing emotionally with that information.
    I totally agree with you that we should try our best to stay healthy for our children, to fight with everything that we’ve got for them.
    Good luck with your choice!

  32. Everyone in my family who didn’t die in a car wreck or something unexpected, died of different kinds of cancer. I am sure it’s going to happen to me at some point, despite my best efforts to be healthy. I think I’d find out about what happens, insurance-wise as well as automatic-sentence-wise, before I chose to do genetic testing. I hate to sound cold….but I’d also hate to have my insurance drop me and leave me with no healthcare over something that may not even happen.

  33. It’s so hard to even begin to think about what to do…I don’t know if I would do the genetic testing. My girlfriend died of breast cancer and she went through a year and a half of chemo, radiation, double mastectomy and breast reconstruction…only to have it come back. No matter the choices a person makes for treatment, sometimes even the most aggressive treatment is not enough. Maybe your mom just knew in her heart it was her time and decided to go on her own accord? I’d like to think so, and that she made that decision for you and for her.

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