by Sheila Adams Gardner
I have long suspected that genetics were behind the half-dozen cancer-related deaths in my family. Nevertheless, I was shocked when my genetic test results revealed that I carry a wayward gene that puts me at high risk for ovarian cancer and elevated risk for breast cancer. My oldest sister Patricia had received the same results two months prior and immediately began prophylactic treatments. After the icicles of shock melted from my brain, I gathered the encouraging words I used to support my sister and anointed myself with them. I was glad to have my lifelong confidant traveling the journey with me, but the feeling of being “cursed” repeatedly crept into my consciousness. Especially when our middle sister Jacinta subsequently learned that she too carried the genetic mutation. We’ve weathered a lot of storms together, including caring for our mother, who chose hospice in her home during her short battle with liver cancer of “unknown origin.” To do nothing to protect ourselves from cancer was never an option.
I learned the term “Previvor” from the FORCE message boards. It gave me an instant sense of belonging as I wandered through the maze of available healthcare choices. The FORCE resources reminded me that I was not alone.
I created Reverse the Curse: A Coloring Book and Journal for Women Fighting Hereditary Cancer during the stressful month-long wait between receiving my test results and my appointments with doctors. Creating designs of beautiful and strong Previvors strengthened me. When I felt overwhelmed with seemingly endless options to consider, I soothed my mind by adding messages to the designs that encouraged me. I reminded myself that knowledge of my gene mutation is an incredible gift—one that my mother and other cancer-stricken relatives did not have. I am now only a third of the way through my prophylactic treatments. Reverse the Curse continues to help me process the bodily changes that have occurred and will occur over the next several months.
I self-published Reverse the Curse on Amazon as a surprise gift to my sisters. All three of us are at different points in our Previvor journeys. I sent the coloring book/journal to each of them, along with a pack of colored pencils. I wanted them to also feel uplifted whenever fear or doubt encroached on the peaceful spaces of their minds.
I am so grateful to my sister Patricia for bravely insisting on genetic testing for cancer. Her courage was the catalyst for reversing the curse for ourselves, our children, grandchildren and generations to come.