I’ve Been Counting My Years Until I Hit 45.
My family history seemed far away until now.
I don’t know how many times I’ve done my math in my head. What year in school was I? How old was she? What year would it be when I was that old?
That year is right now.
You would think that this year would stick out my mind. It never has. Maybe because I wasn’t completely sure of the date. It was just a vague, nebulous idea.
I talked to my mom this morning and I told her that most of the time I just don’t feel right. At the same time, I don’t feel old enough to think a big change is imminent. That’s a stupid thought. I’m not too young.
I am 45.
I asked her when she started going through menopause. She told me 46. It struck me because I knew that my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer before menopause. That’s when I did the math for the last time. She was 45.
I am 45.
Strangely, I feel like I’ve been counting down to this day for over 20 years.
My mother has been cancer free for about 35 years. I know how fortunate I am to be able to say that.
My grandmother had breast cancer and had one of her breasts removed. She had a prosthesis in her bra. When she would take a shower, she would hang it over the back of the door in the bathroom. One day, at about age five, I remember finding the bra and being absolutely terrified at what I had found. And confused. So confused.
She told me that when she was a little girl she was playing on the playground and it fell off. She had a remarkable sense of humor. After all, how do you explain cancer to a five-year-old. You don’t. You make up silly stories instead. It did the job. I loved her for it.
I don’t know what came first, the realization that my grandmother had cancer or my mother’s actual cancer. I was in 8th grade when she was diagnosed.
I’ve been afraid of breast cancer for as long as I’ve had breasts.
My mother did a great job of raising my sister and I to be aware of our bodies and educating us on our family history. Her aunt had it, as well. I think, at some point, I weirdly accepted a reality based on this data: more likely than not, I will get breast cancer.
I’ve steeped in that for 20 years.
Never dramatically, just this low level awareness like your neighbor’s dog you can barely hear down the street. It’s not overly bothersome but you’re still annoyed it’s there.
I have had a long line of wonderful doctors who have always been very cognizant of my family medical history. It amazes me how serious people take medical history. They are attentive and kind.
When I get my annual exam and my doctor tells me everything is all good, I walk down the hallway high-fiving people like LeBron James walking onto the court. Everyone gets a high-five for my boobs. If I could get the nurses to play some theme music, we’d really be on a roll.
I’ve done everything that I possibly can to hold this day at bay. I had my daughter before age 30, as to not increase my risk. I quit putting hormones into my body by having my tubes tied at 32, as to decrease my risk.
When I first wanted to do the genetic testing to see if I had the BRCA gene, it would have cost me $3,500 because it would not be covered under insurance. If I did have the gene, breast cancer could be considered a pre-existing condition and I could be denied coverage should I ever get it.
I remember being so angry that something that could save a life would be so restricted.
Several years ago, changes in healthcare allowed me to get the testing done for the cost of an office co-pay with no ramifications in regard to the result.
I tested negative. It was an amazing relief but at the same time didn’t answer my questions. My mom, today, did. I’m incredibly fortunate that my mother is still with us for me to be able to talk with her about this. She was not afforded the same luxury when she was 45. My grandma had passed several years before.
My mom confirmed today what doctors told her and what other doctors have told me. Breast cancer in our family is triggered by hormones. You know, the ones that are currently beating the shit out of me and making me a hot mess. For her, they were receptors that fueled the cancer growth.
For the last few months, I’ve been feeling like these hormones have been betraying me.
I made a decision today that I’m not going to allow these hormones to get the best of me or to commit the biggest act of betrayal they could. I am going to do everything in my power to beat the shit out of those fuckers.
I called my doctor and set an appointment for next week to do my well woman check, schedule my mammogram, run tests on my hormone levels to see where we are and what I can do.
For the years I’ve spent leading up to my 45th year, I have not had a sense of dread. I’ve always had the sense of knowing that when this time came, the rubber was going to have to hit the road. The clocks wound down but I’m not going to let the alarm go off. I’m going to slap my hand down on it and shut it off myself before that time comes.
Interestingly, I feel no fear or grave concern. I feel alert and alive for the first time in quite a while. I’ve been going through the motions in a lot of ways in my life and this is not an area where I want to call it in. I feel awake.
Like my mom, I plan to be around in 30 years when my daughter hits 45.