A while back, The New York Times published an Op-Ed written by Angelina Jolie about her double mastectomy. She’d tested positive for the BRCA-1 genetic mutation, which is prevalent in women of Ashkenazi-Jewish heritage and indicates a 60-90 percent chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer, and decided that removing both breasts was her best course of prevention. I read the article with interest, as my own mother, like Jolie’s, had died of cancer (though my mom’s was bladder, not breast), my mother’s sister had had both breasts, her ovaries, her colon, and part of her small intestine removed, and my maternal grandmother also had breast cancer.
I should probably get tested, I thought.
But I didn’t.
Jolie’s BRCA-1 saga popped into view again a couple of years later, when she wrote another Op-Ed about the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes. I read that one, too.
I really need to get tested, I thought.
But I didn’t.
Soon enough, a good friend told me that she’d tested positive for BRCA, and would be having a double mastectomy. I watched her power through the surgery and recovery, followed by the reconstruction and another recovery. She was completely fine. In fact, she’s pregnant now.
But I still didn’t get tested.
A week ago, I went to have an annual appointment with Linda, my nurse-midwife, who suggested I get a mammogram.
“I thought that only starts when you’re 40,” I said. “I’m only 35.”
“You’ve got a family history,” she said.
I didn’t want to ask the next question, but I couldn’t stop myself. “What about BRCA testing?”
“I think,” said Linda, “that would be a good idea.”
She told me exactly who to call.
I didn’t call them.
Then a strange thing happened. I went to bed last Monday with a plan to go to an OA meeting, which I would leave early to get to yoga. But as soon as I opened my eyes on Tuesday morning, I heard an inner voice say, Go to the 6 a.m. class.
I don’t go to early-morning yoga anymore; it’s too stressful to come home and try to get the kids off to school. I had my plan for the day, and the 6 a.m. was not part of it.
But I have learned the hard way not to ignore the voice of intuition.
So off I went to the 6 a.m., with no idea why.
Later on, I went to my meeting and stayed until the end (after all, I’d done yoga already). Almost as soon as the meeting was over, a woman grabbed me.
“I’ve just been diagnosed with breast cancer,” she said. Then she started to cry.
One of the side benefits of watching a loved one die of cancer is that the word “cancer” doesn’t scare me anymore. So I just kept listening.
“I want to live,” she said, breaking down.
I pulled the woman in for a hug, then we talked for a few more minutes before saying goodbye. I wished her a customary blessing for Rosh Hashana: “May you be inscribed in the book of life.”
On my way out, it hit me: This is why I went to the 6 a.m.
I set up an appointment this morning for genetic cancer screening. I’m terrified of what it might find, but I’m doing it anyway.
I finally got the message.