Tuesday, August 17, 2010

I've Never Been So Elated to be Negative!!!

Today I received some of the best, most relieving news of my life: I am negative for the breast cancer gene!!!!

During the last 10 years, I asked every OBGYN I saw if I should be tested for BRCA, and to my surprise, all said no. Not long after Jon and I married, I read a beautiful memoir about breast cancer called Pretty is What Changes, which I was compelled to purchase after seeing the author, Jessica Queller, interviewed about genetic testing on Nightline. As I read the book, I decided I absolutely should be tested. Jon and I met with a genetic counselor, but I realized I wasn't yet ready to go through with the test, which would yield potentially life-altering results.

Two years later, I consulted my dear cousin and family oncologist, David Ellison, who strongly agreed that I should be tested. When I went for my annual OBGYN appointment, my doctor set up the test, despite her obvious disbelief that it was necessary.

I scheduled my test for when Jon would be out of town because it is my body, my blood, my family history, and I didn't want him to share my anxiety about the test day in person. He shares a plethora of other difficult days with me each year (for example, the whole month of May: Mother's Day, which often falls on my Mom's birthday, followed by the anniversary of her death, all wrapped up into one long month), so I wanted to give him a pass that day.

I told my Dad and a few friends that I was having the test "in the fall," in case I tested positive and needed time to process the information alone first. But, when I woke with a major bout of anxiety last Wednesday, I quickly called my Dad. He calmed me with Dad-like facts about breast cancer genetics, and kindness and support. He and I both have a touch of ESP, and he expressed that he had a strong feeling, beyond just a hope, that my results would be negative, which is exactly what Jon and I felt.

That afternoon, I paced up and down the waiting room at the Oschner Breast Cancer Center for 45 minutes that felt like a full day. (Dad, while I don't wear a pedometer like you, getting extra steps in each day is always on my mind thanks to you!). Finally, I proceeded to an exam room where a nurse practitioner took down my family history. (Yes, I'm an Ashkenazi Jew. Yes, I know that increases my odds. Yes, my Mom is the only documented family member with breast cancer. Yes, I know that decreases my odds. Yes, I've researched and thought a lot about this and I definitely want the test. Yes, I'm prepared to consider a double mastectomy depending on the outcome. )

To my surprise and relief since I bruise badly at even the sight of a needle, no blood was involved. I was given two small cups of mouthwash, and told to swish each for 30 seconds and spit into a vial to collect a DNA sample. Next, I ran my tongue over my gum, mouth roof, and teeth, and gathered with gusto the remaining, minty saliva to add to the vial. I left the Center with, if not a fresh attitude, then at least a fresh mouth.

I was told I'd receive a call with the results in two to three weeks. I told Jon and my Dad six: for this high-anxiety waiting game, I wanted no pressure. 

The good news came today, less than a week later, on August 17, which is the 9 1/2 year anniversary of the day Jon and I met. I sobbed happily while the nurse practitioner told me I should begin yearly mammograms at 34 (I began at 30 due to David's informed advice) and continue self-checks and regular OBGYN exams.

As I write, I'm sipping a glass of Veuve Cliquot, which I purchased a few weeks ago in nervous anticipation of this very moment. I''ll sign off now to toast myself, and, as always, my Mom.

No comments: