one year down, a lifetime to go

A year ago today, I shakily drove to the University of Washington Medical Center to get the results of my BRCA mutation test. I’d spent the night before sobbing over pictures of mastectomy reconstruction gone wrong (or, well, mastectomy reconstruction on women whose bodies are not remotely like mine and therefore have completely different results that would look really wrong on my body) and just knowing my results would be positive. Ever since I’d been introduced to the BRCA mutation, I knew I had it. I just wasn’t sure, now that my results were so close, if I was ready to face it.

When I tested, I’d thought, “Who cares? If I’m positive, it just means I’ll have to have surgery. Plenty of people have surgery. No big deal.” When I sat down in a tiny room meant for observing special-needs children (complete with two-way mirrors) and heard the genetic counselor say, as she handed out paper copies of my results, “The results are positive…” my world pretty much ended. Full stop.

I refused to cry. I just started at the piece of paper until my eyes stopped watering. I didn’t really have any questions; I’d known my options for years now. When my parents and I walked out, my mom and I lamented the lack of a coffee shop in this particular part of the hospital. I got in my car, I started listening to Mumford & Sons’ “Timshel” on repeat, and I drove to work, furiously IMing M. (who was in Iraq) at stoplights.

The next month and a half were pretty pathetic. I couldn’t muster up energy for much of anything. I gave up on running, on a social life, on being part of the living. What did it matter, since I was just going to end up disfigured and/or dead? I took a lot of naps and obsessed over what had gone wrong in my gene pool. I found countless BRCA blogs that, quite frankly, changed everything for me. I ordered BRCA-related books from Amazon that I have yet to read. I signed up for a PinkPal and met someone who, as we realized in one of our first conversations, will be my friend for life.

And then in the middle of April last year, my best friend and I boarded a plane and went to visit M. in Texas. I was surrounded by sun and good people and I finally felt somewhat normal again. It all got better from there, even though there were (and always will be) bumps and road blocks. I’m not ever going to be exactly the same person I was before March 30th, 2010.

But now it’s been a year. 365 days. I’m still me, just a different version. I’ve joined multiple research studies focusing on BRCA-positive people. I’ve had day-long appointments with oncologists and nutritionists and breast doctors. I’ve had a mammogram and survived an MRI with contrast dye. I’ve met with a plastic surgeon, and it was there that I finally heard what I wish I’d heard a year ago.

On Monday, the medical assistant led me back to the room. She took my weight, my blood pressure, and my pulse, just like normal. And then she looked me in the eye and said, “Don’t worry, everything will be fine. You’re a beautiful girl, and even after mastectomy, they can fix everything. They can make it look great. My husband, he likes me even with no chest. Men worry about your face and about your character. Everything will be okay. You will have a good life.”

And you know what? I will have a good life. Maybe even better than the one I would have had if my test results had been a big fat NEGATIVE a year ago. Happy BRCA-versary to me.

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