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BRCA Family Traditions

December 10, 2020

BRCA Family Traditions

by Katie Spittal

Thanksgiving night after the dishes were done, the guys huddled together watching football and the little kids played quietly in the other room while my sister and I enjoyed a candle-lit conversation as we swapped mastectomy stories with my daughter. It is odd, but this has become one of our family’s traditions. We did not plan this tradition the way we plan the menu or a gift exchange, but BRCA has become the uninvited guest at our table. Like most of our family holiday traditions it all started with my mom. She passed away from breast cancer 13 years ago. During the holiday season we miss her the most. We bring out Mom’s old recipe cards to make her famous pumpkin pie, the table is set with a familiar tablecloth, and I light candles all over the house just as she loved to do.

BRCA, mammograms, and mastectomies are all passed-down traditions for us. Our mom was open with her girls about what she was going through. Knowing that we are not alone cuts away at the stigma our scars leave behind. We include my daughter in the conversation. At 13 we do not know if she has the BRCA mutation, but she sits quietly next to me, eyes wide open. This legacy conversation is equal parts tears and laughter. We confide in each other about the funny things said in an anesthesia haze while in the recovery room. We commiserate over bras and implants, usually ending our discussion in a show-and-tell to settle the all-important “over or under the muscle” decision.

BRCA is a bittersweet part of our family legacy. Its bond links us together tightly and to the memory of our mom in a very real and special way. Yes, this legacy comes with a high cost, but our faith, family and friends help us to be brave and do what needs to be done so that we ‘ll hopefully not have any more empty seats at our holiday table.


Posted in: Voices
Tags: BRCA , Hereditary Cancer , Mastectomy , Coping With Risk


January 5, 2021

Layli says:
Thank you so much for sharing this. I read your post with envy, as I am now alone in this matrilineal inheritance. When I learned of my genetic status, I felt a surge of heat and this wild, fresh intimacy with my mother, whom I had lost to ovarian cancer 11 years prior. I am reminded of Dylan Thomas's poem to his dying father: "Curse, bless me now with your fierce tears, I pray."


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