the Angelina effect


File under, I won’t have what she’s having.

For all you worrywarts out there, rest easy.  I’ve taken those genetic exams—the ones that shall forevermore be known as the Angelina Jolie Tests—and I got negative results on all fronts. Which is oddly comforting, given that I’ve also already had the mammogram result no one wants, and I’ve already fielded that unpleasant follow-up visit, the requisite biopsy, the whole how-to-treat/second-opinion shebang.  My good news is that, whatever iteration of screwed up cell growth I’m dealing with here, it’s not the truly frightening kind that Ms. Jolie tested positive for.  Her mom had cancer and died at age 56; my mom had cancer at 54 and lived three more decades with no recurrences, no scary follow-ups.

What it all comes down to is this: as unpleasant as all this is when you find yourself swimming in the cancer pool, it’s a huge relief when you figure out that your presence seems to be restricted to the shallow end.  By which I mean the end where you find the cancers that aren’t so likely to pop back up down the road, or get all mean and nasty and attention deficit disordered, looking for other parts of one’s anatomy to wreak havoc upon.  I imagine my little carcinoma bobbing about in the baby pool, probably wearing water wings, lazily floating about, without the slightest notion of ducking under the rope to play with the scary high-school tumors, the ones who smoke and wear too much makeup.  I foresee no getting in over my head here, no malignancies going rogue.

None of which explains why my mother and I and two of my three sisters have all been visited by the pink peril.  Whatever it is that has sent us all down this path—a non-BRCA gene, not yet tested for, an over-indulgence of Tab and Diet Pepsi back in the day, or the steady exposure to pesticides sprayed on those roadside blueberries that we kept munching away on, anyhow—well, whatever my sisters and mom and I have in common, breast-cancer-wise, they don’t have an app for that yet.   Those currently available tests provide just one little sliver of something approaching certainty for one specific genetic mutation.  Who knows how many others are out there?  The iterations that modern science can test for are a small little window into our whole genetic makeup, and even then, it’s imperfect information—sort of like how these days, when I go looking for migrating warblers and orioles and tanagers, I start by looking in the places I’ve seen them in years past.  Doesn’t mean they don’t hang out in other trees, in other parts of town, but hey, you know what they say: go with what you know.

What I know so far is this: I’m getting close to the finish line on the really crappy part of dealing with my little medical drama.  And “little” is the operative word. My tidy scars are healing nicely, my days of schlepping back and forth for treatments are numbered in the single digits.  Oh, so very soon, this piece of my life will all be a memory, just a phase, like colic or diaper rash was to parenting.  I’ll be taking pills, I’ll have lots of checkups, but really, I’m almost done.  I truly am so very lucky.  This really could be SO much worse.

I was just this past week thinking that it feels like time to take that phrase out of the sub-header on this blog.  My writing here has meandered to so many other subjects, all randomly connected to my current situation, but really, “Here’s What I Know So Far” feels so much more like words I can write to for the long run.  As an outlook on life, the “It Could Be SO Much Worse” tag feels a little limited to this moment in my life, this little bump in the road.  Which is all it was ever meant to describe.

Just yesterday, my beloved and I found ourselves in an email circle that exploded with sad and scary news, another story that begins with a test that produced the result no one wants.  Once again, we’re part of a cohort who has been visited by the cancer boogeyman, and we’re all circling the wagons, sending love and holding good thoughts.  And yes, sadly, this new story is one of a battle to be faced, one that will be so very, very much more difficult than the one I’ve been dealing with.  Mine is easy.  Mine is the one they’ve got a handle on.  Hers will be more like a hungry wolf than a lapdog.  What our friend and her family are facing makes me want to cry.

So, I wrote the same platitudes we all write. Boy, this sucks.  Thinking of you.  Let us know if there’s anything we can do.  I did add one particularly concrete offer, sort of a variation on that six word Hemingway story: Yours if you want it: one wig, real hair, never worn.

That’s a story for another day.


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