by Lalena Fisher
From mother to daughter to daughter’s daughter: a mutation of the BRCA gene binds us together along with our love.
Is it a blessing or a curse? That dreaded lab report—“Positive for a deleterious mutation”—empowers us to make gut-wrenching decisions about protecting ourselves…and also dooms us to make gut-wrenching decisions about protecting ourselves.
Finding myself in that spot and desperate for a way to process the grief and anxiety I felt, I wrote a song. “Mutant (Chromosome 13)” weaves eerie rock riffs out of “three and twenty unmatched pairs” of chromosomes, then zooms out to the woman whose body houses them.
In the song, a pair of genes is a pair of lovers who depend on each other. They make tumor-preventing proteins: “Myriad little nuts and bolts” (a nod to Myriad, the only consumer lab doing BRCA testing 15 years ago). But when one gene is broken, the other is alone in its job of making tumor-fighting proteins. It now has to work perfectly at all times.
Meanwhile, the woman, conscious of this pressure on her genes, feels alienated and “marked” by her BRCA+ status—like Hester Prynne, wearing a scarlet letter on her chest, singling her out as different from those around her.
Adding another facet to the blessing, my daughter plays drums and sings the song with me. So we’ve used the cursed genetic bond to strengthen our powerful, blessed bond of love and strength. (We don’t know yet whether she carries the mutation.)
She and I started recording “Mutant (Chromosome 13)” during the 2020 pandemic lockdown, along with 10 other songs for our album Flesh of My Flesh. My daughter was 12 at the time. By the time we finished the vocals and released the album for online streaming in late 2022, she was 14 and her voice had changed.
I got my BRCA+ results in 2006. After that gut punch, which occurred while my mom was dying of ovarian cancer, I spent four years researching options…and having a child. When my daughter was two, I had a preventive mastectomy, DIEP flap reconstruction and a hysterectomy. My recovery was long, but I am happy to report that I feel great today, and I am grateful to not have to think much about BRCA in my daily life right now.
But one of the many things I’ve learned through meeting other BRCA+ people—not to mention a few doctors who insisted they knew better than I did what were the right decisions for me—is that each woman’s experience is unique. We each have our own background story, psychology and life circumstances. This song is a snapshot of my take on the experience, from one period in time. Learning about other women’s experiences has been empowering for me, so I want to share this song with you. Thank you for listening!
Bandcamp link, with lyrics: https://themothermold.bandcamp.com/track/mutant-chromosome-13