by Joanna Rudnick
This time of year is all about the great miracles and the infinite possibilities.
For most of us, miracle and possibility are the last words that come to mind when we get a positive test result for a BRCA mutation. At least they were for me. (I can think of a number of other choice words that I uttered, many of which are not appropriate to write here.)
Grieving for all that I immediately wrote off – health, happiness, future, motherhood, love - I failed to realize that I was sitting on top of a heap of little miracles that would alter the course of my life and make the impossible…possible.
From “coming out” and feeling up my first pair of breasts on camera to the birth of my baby girl, this crazy, unexpected, grueling, electrifying, terrifyingly, humorous, humbling, raw and beautiful road was paved with tiny miracles:
Miracle #1: Dr. Mary-Claire King – how lucky are we that this brilliant scientific mind, fueled by the incomprehensible loss of a childhood friend to cancer, dedicated her life’s work to tracing the familial link for breast cancer down to the molecular level. Picture the countless late nights she spent pouring over pedigrees that stretched the length of the floor in her lab and beyond to get us where we are now.
Miracle #2: Our mothers, fathers, sisters, brothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, great-grandmothers, great- grandfathers, aunts, uncles, great aunts, great uncles and cousins, who left us their health histories - our most valuable clues - so that the next generations would not suffer in silence with the disease that cut too many of their lives far to short.
Miracle #3: FORCE! Thirteen Years ago, Sue Friedman had the chutzpah and dedication to leave her successful career as a veterinarian to create a home for all of us. Her one-person-machine turned into thousands of families from around the world coming together to share information and offer support and encouragement to each other. (Miracle #3A: Sue was the first person I called when I launched In the Family and she immediately jumped on board.)
Miracle #4: in the spirit of true collective action, We came together as a community to fight for protective legislation to prevent health insurers and employers from discriminating against people based on their genes; We supported the ACLU in their challenge to the BRCA patents – a case likely to be heard by the Supreme Court; and We continue to fight against funding cuts for breast and ovarian cancer research.
Miracle #5: Debbie Wasserman-Schultz – The head of the DNC is not only out about being BRCA+, her breast cancer diagnosis and her surgeries, she is actively fighting in Congress for more research dollars, education and awareness programs.
Miracle #6: The Good News -That we have the ability to find out; that there is surveillance and prevention and that both are getting better (the real miracle will be a reliable blood marker for early detection of ovarian cancer); that we can talk about BRCA and people know what we’re talking about; that fertility options are improving at a rapid pace (although, no more affordable) and reconstructed boobs are getting even hotter; PARP inhibitors; the Affordable Health Care Act (say goodbye to discrimination based on a pre-existing condition); and being part of a community where all of our choices are respected no matter which path we choose.
Miracle #7: The Silver Lining (this one is personal) - The people in my life who got me to see the possibilities (and these are only a few; there are too many to list)– Linda Pedraza, “It’s life and you don’t mess with that”; Martha Haley, the poet warrior; Cookie and Lewis Rudnick, it’s all about family; Jordan, loves me anyway and every way; and Eloise, I can’t put it into words.
Wishing you all happy, healthy and fulfilling holidays. Here’s to a 2012 full of more miracles in the BRCA world.
In honor of the season, please share your holiday blessings and miracles with us! Happy Holidays!
FORCE member Joanna Rudnick is the producer of the documentary In the Family