BRCA2 — Decisions, Decisions

‪Getting a positive BRCA2 (mutation in a gene that puts you at a much higher risk for getting cancer) result has changed my life. Between my mom’s current battle with ovarian cancer, and my sister and my positive BRCA results, I can say without exaggeration I think about cancer every single day.

I wonder if deadly cancer cells are quietly destroying my healthy cells. Morbid right? I wish I could make the thoughts go away. I have to remind myself daily – you don’t have cancer, you may never get cancer. But, my mind still wanders to what if?

I’ve seen more doctors in the last two months than I’ve seen in my whole life. All of them recommend getting a bilateral mastectomy and a bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy or BSO (removal of fallopian tubes and ovaries). If you do these things you basically (hopefully?) get yourself out of the high risk category. Seems like a difficult, but obvious decision right?

It’s not, for me anyway.

When I was waiting for my DNA results to come back, I decided if it came back positive, I would aggressively counter it with the preventative surgical options. It’s easy to make that decision when you secretly believe your test will come back negative. But, it didn’t and now I’m not so sure.

I will be getting the BSO surgery because at this time there are no reliable screenings for ovarian cancer and by the time you have any symptoms it’s usually pretty advanced. Maybe because I’m watching my mom battle ovarian cancer this decision was easier. I don’t want to go through what she’s going through.

But, the mastectomy decision is much more difficult. It feels so drastic to me. I’ve seen (and spoken with) so many brave, warrior BRCA women on Instagram who have opted for the full preventative surgeries and I’m awed by their courage and I respect their decision and resolve. But, for me, my mind keeps screaming – I don’t have cancer! Why do I have to do this?

The surgery is not easy, the recovery is long and painful and like any surgery there can be complications afterwards. But, it does lower your risk of getting breast cancer – by a lot. It seems to give most women some peace of mind to move on and live their best life. That’s not a small thing and obviously it appeals to me.

All that being said, I’m leaning towards surveillance screenings twice a year (MRI and mammogram). Many people don’t choose this option because basically you’re just trying to catch the cancer early when it’s easier to treat. But, twice a year you’ll be waiting for results to hear if you have cancer. Can I live that way? Do I want to? I don’t know.

If I get a result back that shows cancer I’d immediately opt for the mastectomy because in my mind the decision would be taken away. But, will I spend every day stressing over cancer? I don’t want to. I want to live a full life and I appreciate my health now more than I ever have before.

I haven’t made a final decision on the mastectomy, but for now I have an MRI scheduled for November and I’ve already had one clear mammogram. I suppose I’ll see how screenings feel mentally and go from there.

So now I’m focusing on the surgery I will be having. I’m waiting for insurance authorization for the consultation and BSO procedure at City of Hope. It’s also an odd feeling to spend so much time in hospitals and centers where people are vigilantly fighting cancer and I walk in healthy with a report showing I’ve got some obscure mutant gene. Their bravery and battle makes my indecision and angst feel so weak and lame. I’m trying to prevent what they’re going through. I should just stop my whining and be thankful science has given us the knowledge and ability to be cancer-free while making preventative choices that could save our lives.

Anyway, I fully realize this isn’t the most fun blog post I’ve ever written, but if one scared and confused person stumbles across it and feels less alone than it’s worth it.

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My BRCA is Broke-A… Now What?


My BRCA (2) is Broke-A… Now What? First let me put on my doctor’s hat… ok, yeah, I’m not a doctor, I’m a graphic designer, but really same difference, right? And I’ve been reading so much medical junk, I’m practically a doctor.

Anyway, everybody has the BRCA genes. You, and you and you ::me pointing at you::

“BRCA stands for BReast CAncer susceptibility gene. There are two BRCA genes: BRCA1 and BRCA2. Normally, they help protect you from getting cancer. But when you have changes or mutations on one or both of your BRCA genes, cells are more likely to divide and change rapidly, which can lead to cancer.”

In May my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She is currently going through a course of chemotherapy. During the diagnosis phase my mother was given the BRCA genetic test to see if she was a carrier, she was. This outcome brought my sister, brother and I into this medical story.

My sister and I began getting every screening and test out there, including genetic tests of our own. My sister took hers first. We never think about it as half, but we’re half sisters with different fathers. Her father passed away from cancer when she was young. So, with that fact her path is different than mine. My biological father recently passed away, but did not have cancer. Added to the genetic cocktail here, we are Ashkenazi Jews (European Jews) which also adds to this gene mumbo-jumbo of being a contributor to a higher risk of cancer. My mother’s ancestry is European Jew, but my father’s is Irish/Spanish. So, there was some thought I could test negative, but, y’know of course not. My BRCA 2 gene is a mutation. A lousy, rotten mutation. So, is my sisters. We’ve both got slacker mutants living inside us. Jerks.

Hence my brilliantly funny joke — My BRCA is Broke-A. Look, I’ve got a stupid mutation in me, laugh at my dumb joke. Go ahead, I’ll wait.

So, now what? At this point in this riveting story our brave hero – ME! My story, I get to describe myself any way I choose. I’m going with Brave Hero. My oncologist, I have a friggin’ oncologist! I don’t have cancer, but now I have an oncologist. But, he’s a very nice man. Anyway, he’s setting me up with an appointment for a genetic consultation to learn more and discuss options.

Knowledge is power, or so they say. But, they also say ignorance is bliss. For me, this one rings a little truer. Yesterday at 3pm I didn’t have some stupid mutated gene slacking on the job. I was pretty blissful. By 4pm I found out about this slacker and the knowledge didn’t feel powerful. Actually, I was pretty pissed off. Did I need to know this? Could I have just lived with the information my mom had cancer and I would now have to be vigilant with my screenings and my health? Was it imperative for me to know about my little slacking mutant and the destruction he could potentially cause? His main function was to fight off cancer, but since the idiot mutated my risk of breast cancer has jumped substantially from around 12% to 40%-70%! My dude, WTF you had one job and you muffed it!


Now I’ve got choices to make, big, huge decisions regarding how aggressively I’ll handle this. Preventative bilateral mastectomy and hysterectomy. Wow, right? I know! But, I don’t know if I’ll go that route. Before I found out about my slacking mutant I said I would, now I want knowledge and information and even some dumbed down statistics. I hate math, so show me on your fingers and toes what my odds are with and without surgery.

Well, here we are, all caught up on the story of our Brave Hero. Our brave hero and her dumb ol’ sidekick slacker mutant. We’ll figure this all out. Will I cut this jerk out of my life for good or learn to co-exist? I dunno. But, I’m going with Knowledge is Power because it’s too late for Ignorance is Bliss. 

Stay tuned.


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When You’re Strong


Photo by J. Wahl

PROLOGUE: Is this about you? I don’t know, maybe, or maybe it’s all of us – sometimes. 

Under the blanket of darkness she cries, praying to a God she fears isn’t listening. He’s probably listening to the prayers of someone more worthy – someone who believes without reservation, she prays nonetheless. The darkness knows she’s not as strong as she looks, but it never tells – it’s her secret keeper. A loyal friend.

As the sun rises she splashes cold water on her face, and smiles into the mirror until it feels real. The sunshine warms her face where the trail of tears once flowed. It’s not as loyal as the darkness, it shows all the rough edges and tender spots. The sun searches for secrets, and tells them all.  She must be strong to outrun the sun’s harsh glare.

At the end of the day she drops her armor at the door, and slides into the comforting arms of darkness.

This is her dance, she does it well.

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Before and After

How fast we learn lessons when time isn’t guaranteed.

On Friday, April 20th I found out my mom has ovarian cancer. Cancer, is there a more terrifying word?

Every issue I had with my mom, real and imagined, fell away. In that instant I was released from the anger I’ve stubbornly held onto for years. Big, seemingly insurmountable problems now look small and petty. I look small and petty. Why did it take cancer to release me and allow me to just open my heart and love her without conditions and judgment? In the dark of night I often wonder if I’m a terrible person, I hope I’m not. I hope I’m just a very flawed human who can learn lessons even if it takes a jolt to my gut like my mom’s cancer.

My mom’s cancer. Those words crush me. When I read them – yes, read them. My mom sent out a family email to inform us. I know you read that and thought, “what the hell?” But, it’s not strange for my family. We’re not a conventional family by any stretch of the imagination. But, each family is different, and I think that’s ok.

When I read the words they didn’t make sense. I kept re-reading them, it felt like I was reading a foreign language where the only word I knew was cancer.

“Who has cancer? Somebody, please, read this to me…who has cancer?”

My mom… wait, it says my mom has cancer. That can’t be right, I must be reading it wrong. If that moment were a movie it turned from color to black and white. The details of my surroundings fell away, but the edges grew sharper. And I hurt, my body ached, I wasn’t breathing right and there was a gut wrenching noise, it was me. Then I called my husband at work. I said words, I don’t know what they were.

I called my sister, I quickly realized she was in her car and hadn’t read the email. I tried to not tell her, but she knows me better than anyone in the world and almost immediately started to cry. I told her to pull over. I yelled it because she didn’t seem to hear me. She pulled over and I told her. She started screaming and wouldn’t stop. She couldn’t stop. I yelled at her, I swore at her to stop – I slapped her face with my voice so she’d snap out of it. She did. I told her to breathe. Take a breath right now, take another, now go home and call me.

As I sit here in the dark I’m thinking of my beautiful, funny and always sees the bright side mom. I don’t feel any of the anger I’ve stubbornly and stupidly carried around for years. God, why am I so damn stubborn? Why can’t I see my stubbornness until there’s a “life is not guaranteed” moment. Sometimes I just hate myself. Hate the way I am. Why am I the most difficult with the ones I love the most? Guess that’s for another day.

We have a battle ahead. My crazy, dysfunctional family – my brother, whose faith guides his every step. He’s better than I could ever dream of being. I hope his goodness makes God hear our prayers. I hope my brother’s unwavering faith makes God grant us a miracle. My sister, who is so close to my mom they’re practically the same person. My jealousy of that is gone now. I hope my sister can use their bond to bring comfort and strength to my mom. Our spouses and partners who are our rocks. Our family.

I think of my mom’s battle ahead, our battle as a family. I’m so angry right now. I swing wildly from dropping right to my knees and begging God to be kind and merciful and cursing him for doing this to such a good person.

Nothing makes sense right now, but despite that, and my own endless flaws, I’m strong. I’m ridiculously strong, and I rise to moments. I’m going to rise to this one. I swear cancer, you don’t have a fucking chance. My dysfunctional, crazy, beautiful family is going to rise to this moment and fight you like superheroes.

Please mommy just be strong too.

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Pieces of My Life

When I was 12 years old I found out the man I’d been calling daddy wasn’t my father. I was sitting at the kitchen table with my sister, eating a cheeseburger, when my parents got into one of their increasingly regular fights. My dad left, slamming the door behind him. My mother went to her room. I began crying not sure if he’d come back this time.

Then my sister said, “Don’t cry, he isn’t your real father, George is.” There was no malicious intent on her part, she just wanted me to stop crying. To this day she doesn’t remember this episode, and I can’t forget it. Not understanding what I just learned, I went around the corner to my best friend’s house and told her. We snuck a glass of her mom’s wine and discussed it like only 12 year olds getting a wine buzz can. Then we went for a bike ride.

Later, I went home and my mom told me the whole story. I was her love child. Such a romantic sounding phrase. After divorcing my brother and sister’s dad my mom met a blonde haired, golden skinned boy. That finally answered my question regarding having blonde hair and gold toned skin in a family full of dark hair and olive toned skin. They were in love, and the inevitable happened she got pregnant. He wasn’t sure he wanted kids and she had two and one on the way. Nine months later she had three kids, but he was gone. Then she met a handsome Navy man, who not only fell in love with her, but fell in love with me too and adopted me when I was one.

This is where this tale gets tricky. My parents opted to not tell me I was adopted. So, until that fateful day I had no idea. When my dad came home after the fight, I pretended I didn’t know. To his dying day he never knew I found out. After my parents divorce, I just kept pretending and so did he. It wasn’t too hard as I only saw him a few more times.

That’s when I began feeling half. It was a quiet feeling at first because I was young and didn’t recognize it for what it was. For some reason not looking like anyone in my family stuck with me. I wondered if there was some blonde, tan skinned family out there that I looked like. Did he ever think of me? I kept these thoughts to myself because it felt disloyal to the man who raised me. But, I wondered.

Then I went away to college, and my parents got a divorce very soon after. I always felt guilty that they waited until I was gone to go find happiness. My dad went back to his hometown in Illinois and my mom began her journey as a single career woman. As for me, I continued thinking about my biological father. It was just that vain wondering if I looked like him. I didn’t have a burning desire to know him though, once again, knowing him felt disloyal to the man who raised me.

When I was 21 I came home from college on break, and told my mom I wanted to meet my biological father. She had kept track of him throughout the years and periodically sent class pictures (I didn’t know this). She contacted him and to his credit he agreed to meet me. First he had to tell his wife he had a daughter. That’s all I’ll say on that as it’s not my story to tell.

A week or so later I arrived at the agreed upon restaurant. I’m nervous and I’ve changed my mind. But, it’s too late, I see him and he sees me. He looks nervous too. The first thing I notice is how much I look like him. He notices too and says something like, “Well, no doubt you’re mine.” I laugh nervously and so does he. We have the same smile and our eyes squint when we laugh. We sit at the table and make small talk. He puts his hand up the way you do when you’re comparing hand size, and I put mine up too. We laugh because our hands are exactly the same shape. There were no heartfelt conversations that day or any of the days that followed.

Flash forward through the years we stayed in touch mostly through email. Neither of us made attempts for more. I stubbornly wanted him to do all the work. Right or wrong I felt he owed it to me. I can be stubborn even (especially) when I’m wrong. We sent each other holiday cards, checked in to see how the other was doing and periodically he’d send me some money. I think he felt fatherly doing that, like giving me an allowance even though I was all grown up. Then my adopted father passed away. I told him my dad died and from that point on he began signing his emails “dad”. I resented it and liked it all at the same time. I wanted more with him, but would never give an inch of myself to show him the door was open. Even though my dad was gone I still felt loyal to him and I had this exhausting internal battle of wanting something and fighting myself for wanting it.

As long as this story is I’ve left out so much. Some because as I said previously they aren’t my stories to tell. Some just because this is already so long and I’m not done yet.

Flash forward to now. My mother-in-law is very into genealogy and bought a bunch of those DNA tests on that Ancestry site. She sent me mine and I wasn’t totally into it, but agreed to take it. So I did and sent it in. A couple of months later I received my results. I’ve always known I was Jewish on my mom’s side and Spanish on my father’s. Both of those showed up in my results, but even more than both of those was I’m 37% Irish. I didn’t know that. I assumed there must be Irish on my bio dad’s side. When you take these tests you have to activate your information on the site and it shows you if you have any DNA matches that are members on the site – I did.

The next morning I get an email from a woman who showed up as a strong match. Hang in there this part gets confusing… She told me some family member’s names, one being her mom Constance. I got a lump in my throat because I knew my bio dad’s mom’s name was Constance. I told her his name and that her mom had the same name as his mom. She immediately wrote back telling me her great Aunt’s name is Constance, and her mom was named after her. Our grandparents were brother and sister. I’d heard from my mom my grandmother had a tragic death and once again not my story to tell. But, this woman who I had an immediate and emotional connection to asked me if I wanted to see some “family” photos. I did and she sent me the first photo I’d ever seen of my grandmother, Constance. I cried, I couldn’t stop crying. Every photo she sent me felt like a long lost puzzle piece snapping into place. She also sent me a genealogy report on the Spanish side of my family. Telling their story of migrating to the United States for work. First landing in Hawaii where the whole family worked in the sugar cane fields saving money to come to the mainland where they built a life. No words can express how precious this book is to me.

I wanted to let my bio dad know what I’d found. I hadn’t talked to him for quite a few months. I told him in an email about what my DNA results turned up. I privately thought maybe this would crack the door open for us to maybe have something to bond a bit over. A few days passed and I didn’t hear anything. I thought maybe he was freaked out I found a connection to his mom whose tragic death when he was young must have had a huge emotional impact on him. I wrote him again. No response. I wrote again and still no response. I decided to write to his wife just to make sure everything was ok. I had a pit in my stomach because even though we weren’t close we always returned emails immediately. Often within minutes like we were waiting.

His wife wrote back right away. Just seeing her name in my inbox made me tear up. Something not good was coming. She told me she had to put my dad into a home in June he has dementia compounded with a lifetime of heart problems. She said he didn’t want any visitors and probably wouldn’t remember me.

We’ll never talk about the paternal side of his family who migrated here from Ireland and make up a large part of my DNA. He’ll never tell me about his mom’s death or his dad and grandfather whose name he carries. We’ll never have anything more than the small relationship neither of us was willing to build on. My stubbornness has shut this door. I’ll carry that every day with me.

I don’t know what happens next. I don’t know if she’ll let me see him. I just don’t know and the not knowing hurts. I’m not a person who shares myself easily, so I write. I guess I just end this with – to be continued…

PROLOGUE: In the early morning hours on November 30th my biological father passed away quietly in his sleep. I never got to see him or say goodbye. There will be no service and no closure for me, just guilt and regrets. 

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Let Me Eat Cake

Flashnano a challenge to write 30 stories in 30 days with a daily story prompt

FlashNano Day 9: Write a story that takes place in the grocery store (supermarket)

*PG-13 for language

img_5190She spent the day holed up in her house in her pajamas. Too shell shocked to leave. CNN still blaring the results loudly from the other room.

Her hair was unkempt and her toothbrush never left its holder. The wine she mournfully drank the night before roiled in her gut. But, she was hungry. More like hangry actually, that new fangled word – hungry + angry = hangry.

She threw on sweats and a jacket over her pajama top. Crammed her disgusting hair into a ball cap and put on her shades. She had to go to the store and get some food…NOW.

Walking into the store she headed to the produce section. Maybe a nice salad, fresh fruit and some lightly flavored sparkling water would make her feel better. She stood looking at the array of vegetables, mentally putting the salad together. Beautiful crisp lettuce, crunchy cherry tomatoes, vivid peppers of green, orange and red – julienne cut, of course. She put all of the ingredients for her salad into her cart. She was starting to feel better already. Seeing a container of organic pine nuts, she put that in her cart as well.

She walked over to the fruit section and bagged two bright green granny smith apples, a honeydew melon and lastly a bunch of nearly ripe bananas… nearly ripe, she didn’t like brown spotted bananas. She searched for a non-brown spotted bunch… every bunch had brown spots. She could feel her blood pressure rising.

“What the fuck I just want bananas that aren’t brown spotted, is that too much to ask for?” She muttered loudly.

She began tossing the brown spotted bunches over her shoulder in search of a non-damaged bunch.

“No! No! No! NO! This will not fucking do!” She shouted. People began to stare, but she didn’t care. She began hurling the brown spotted bananas across the produce section.

“Ma’am…um you can’t throw bananas… it’s not allowed,” the young man in his bright red employee vest stuttered.

Turning around with bulging eyes and bunches of bananas clutched in both hands she leaned into the scared young man’s face and growled, “This fucking banana will NEVER be my president… oh! I mean…”

Realizing what she’d said and seeing the terror in the young man’s face made her laugh. She laughed until tears poured down her face.

“I’m so sorry… it’s ok, I’m so… Geezus, I’m so sorry. Can you please take this cart. I won’t need it.”

Still looking warily at the obviously insane woman, he took her cart and began putting the vegetables away.

She went to the bakery section and bought a triple layer chocolate cake inscribed with “Happy Birthday” in bright pink lettering. The young woman behind the bakery counter asked, “Would you like me to add a name to that?”

“Nah, this’ll be fine like this,” she grabbed a cheap bottle of wine and headed to the register.

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And The Dog Shall Inherit The Earth

FlashNano a challenge to write 30 stories in 30 days with a daily story prompt

Not my proudest moment writing-wise, but I’m a bit distracted today. JLW

FlashNano Day 8: Write a story in the form of a speech




Wild applause.


Hello Friends…

Enough with these humans ruling the land… Enough I say! Join me today and I promise you warm beds, hot meals, a squeak toy in every basket and a human to train any way you please.

No dog has ever started a war. Dogs love peace… unless there’s a squirrel around and then all bets are off. But otherwise, a dog knows love is the answer… love and a bit of bacon.

So, if you enjoy peace, love & bacon. I’m your dog!

Dogs Rule – Humans Drool!

Wild applause.

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