Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rerouting My Road Map of Life

Well, today is another doctor's appointment. Today is mammogram day.

On Friday, I found out that I do not have the breast cancer gene (yahoo). I wanted to get tested for the BRCA1/BRCA2 gene because they would monitor my ovaries more closely from now on and take a screening approach rather than a diagnostic one if I did have it. Not having it is good news. This news was followed by 'but you might have 'this' disease or 'that' disease." So, because I was only 26 when I was diagnosed, they are trying to find a reason for it. The odds of my cancer being based on environmental causes, my surroundings, hormones in the water I drink, etc. is less likely because the tumour developed in only 26 years rather than the average 50+ years.

They want to determine whether my genetics are working against me so we can improve the type and amount of screening that I get. So, for example, if I have one of the diseases that could explain breast cancer at 26, then I might have an increased chance of getting pancreatic cancer (these are just examples) so from now on, every time I have my yearly mammogram, I will also have an MRI to check on my pancreas and hopefully catch anything that's there in its early stages.

However, there are some diseases where cancer is radiation 'induced' meaning that with the more radiation I get (from MRIs, Mammograms, X-rays, etc.), the higher chance I have of developing one of THOSE cancers. So, really, it's a good thing to figure out if I have any of these gene-based cancers so we can either do more aggressive screening or instead, try to minimize the amount of screening but maximize testing results.

So, the next time I am at the hospital, I will be getting tested for these two other syndromes/disorders/diseases that may help explain cancer at 26. I have something like a 3% chance of having either of these diseases and no one seems to think that I have it (two of the 'qualifying symptoms' is a history of childhood cancers in your family and a head circumference of over 58cm - neither of which I have). If I don't have either of those mutations then my blood work goes onto a research lab where they try to determine what genetic reasoning there may be for my specific breast cancer. I may not know for 10 years but at least they have another sample to work with.

After I found out that I wasn't BRCA positive, I got a little emotional while I was texting my dad. I'm going to take a stab at trying to explain this and hope I don't fail miserably.

I think about the day I found out I had cancer and wonder how I would have reacted if the results were different, if I had not had cancer and the lump had been a harmless cyst. Would I have been so thankful to not have cancer that I would have changed my approach to living (probably not) - the same way I've changed my approach since my diagnosis? My life would have been so different if they would have said 'you do NOT have cancer'. Well, I guess rather than being different, it would have stayed the same - it would have been different than my current life but it would have stayed the same as my pre-diagnosis life. When I am told good 'medical' news, I celebrate it for a day then move on to the next appointment but when I get bad news, it affects the decisions that I make for the rest of my life.

I think about how the last 5 days would have been so different if the BRCA results would have been positive; I would have been planning my next mastectomy, planning a gynecological exam, and I would have been fearful of my mom's/niece's/future children's odds of having it too. I don't have to worry about any of that now. I was given a green light.

It's like I've printed off my life road map from Mapquest and originally, I knew exactly where I was headed but lately new directions are rerouting me into some sketchy neighbourhoods. I get to a traffic light where I'm stuck in these bad parts of town; it always seems to be yellow when I get there - proceed with caution, and then depending on the doctor's appointments and my results, it either turns green or red - both of which severely change the remainder of my trip. Does that make sense?

Wait, what am I talking about? Last week, cancer was my roommate and now I've compared my life with cancer to being at a stop light in the ghetto? I think all I'm trying to say is, we need to celebrate the good news that has no affect on changing our lives and gives us the opportunity to keep it the same.

I get in these moods, these 'see the bright side of things' moods, when I go home and see with my family. Yesterday, I got to hang out with my 4 year old niece and there's nothing like a day with her to put things into perspective. I swear to you, yesterday, for part of the day, cancer wasn't even in my vernacular. Cancer? What cancer? I put all my energy into her so cancer took a back seat. She doesn't care how many breasts I have or if my eyelashes aren't as full and thick as they used to be. She cares about hanging out with Auntie Katie. I got to sing about Batman smelling, robin laying a egg, the Batmobile and the Joker taking ballet. I got to decorate Christmas tree ornaments that just happened to be cookies (bonus) and I got to see the toy section of a department store in a whole new light.

So, when I think about getting this mammogram today, or getting the test results (which might be today, too), I have to remember that, if they are good results, I need to let them positively affect my life as much as they would negatively affect it. If this lump is cancerous that means more surgery, more chemo, etc. etc. so if it's not I think that should mean more celebration, more taking risks and more (intentional) adventures.

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