Day of the Live


This is a post about not having cancer and being alive.

My sister died terribly young — heinously young, ridiculously young — from breast cancer. She was two weeks away from turning 31. Her diagnosis, mastectomy, and reconstruction had taken place just two years before.

Because she died young, I’ve had my mammos grammed every year since I was in my 20s. That’s a lot of radiation, and I’ve worried that it adds up. 

A few weeks ago, at my annual appointment, the nurse practitioner and I talked about the BRCA test, which tests for a genetic mutation. It’s a spit test, and I said, sure, why not? I didn’t think too much about it. I was pretty sure I did not have that mutation. I wasn’t worried.

I do have the mutation. And it amazes me how scary it feels to consider that. I mean, it’s the same genes I’ve had all my life and I’ve known for decades that I most likely have an elevated risk of breast cancer (because of family history and ancestry). BRCA also confers a higher risk of ovarian cancer.

My father died of cancer as did his mother, both of them dying in their 60s. My mother has had several cancers, though she’s still kicking it in her 70s. Her mother and father both developed cancer and both died younger than 70. I’m not looking so pretty on the genetics.

My daughter tells me she learned that our health is, statistically, something like 15% due to genetics. Behavior and environment and health care count for far more.  I’ll go with that. I eat well, move well, keep stress from overwhelming me. I never smoked. I don’t drink or use drugs. I get too little sleep and too much sun, it’s true, and I can be emotionally negative. 

I’m also relentlessly optimistic, which is why when I learned I have the BRCA-2 mutation and not the BRCA-1 mutation, I felt lucky because the 1 is associated with a higher breast cancer risk for a cancer that’s more difficult to treat (if the internet is to be believed). I felt lucky because I’ve made it this far, decades past the point my sister succumbed.

When my father was in cancer treatment, one of his favorite things to say was, “Well, I’m not going to die today.” He’d come in from one of his super slow runs or a yoga class or after having played a round of golf with his friends and say, “I’m not dying today.” He was always right. 

Was it really just this past Tuesday that I got the call, minutes before I headed out to Nia, that my doctor had a test result to discuss with me? I have a “deleterious mutation,” 6174delT BRCA2. Was it just this past Tuesday that a car ran a red light, smashing into Diane’s car as she was pulling out from work and getting set to head to my Nia class? She walked away, bruised and sprained and inflamed and sore, and not broken. 

My run today was supposed to be 11 or 12 miles. My achilles has been sore all week, more sore, and I don’t want to train so hard that my achilles can’t keep up with recovery. I thought maybe I should run shorter, 8 or 9 miles. I was running pretty slowly. I know that stress in our lives can affect our physical performance. I just didn’t have it in me to go any faster. At mile 10, my left knee began to hurt. At mile 12, my right hip began to ache. I wanted to walk; I wanted to stop. I wanted even more to run 13 miles. I wanted to be stronger than the desire to slow down and stop. 

Take that, BRCA 2. I just ran 13 miles this morning. I’m not dying today.