In my adult life, I’ve stayed overnight at the hospital five times. Each one of those times I’ve come home with a baby, so hospitals don’t really scare me. They changed from places to go see my mother while she received cancer treatment to places of excitement and joy where I met each of my babies for the first time. Even when hospitals were for visiting Mom, they didn’t scare me. I was in high school and actually got along well with her. I suppose hospitals have always been a place of joy for me...a more subdued, less excitement filled place of joy, but they still brought me joy because entering those doors brought me to her.
The last time I entered the hospital to see Mom was the day after my wedding. We had gotten married in her room the day before so she could be present for it. She had been fighting breast cancer for eight years and managed to hold out to see me enter my new life with John Henry. She wore the dress she had had made especially for that day, there were flowers in my hand, Dad walked me down the “aisle” from the room next door where I got dressed amidst laughter, excitement, and joy. All the guys wore white socks with their tuxes to be silly because why not? The priest was there, our closest family members were there, but most importantly, Mom saw us get married. That was her goal. I am the youngest of four and she needed to see each of us married and know in her heart that we were all okay. Once again, the hospital was a place of joy and excitement. She slipped away three short days later.
Soon I’ll be staying overnight at the hospital again, but I won’t be coming home with a baby. This time I’m not filled with joy at seeing my mother or excitement for meeting my new precious child. This time is different. As the day gets closer, I’m distracted. I’m scared. I’m nervous. I’m also secure, confident, and content. Wait, what? I suppose I should back up a bit.
In my family, my mother’s breast cancer wasn’t an isolated event. She had a sister who lost her battle to it and I have a cousin who is fighting it now. I had a simple blood test that told me that there is a mutation in my gene that is a marker for an increased chance of getting breast cancer. BRCA 2 to be specific. When I found out about this, I was still nursing our youngest baby so I didn’t jump to make any decisions. For about a year and half, I weighed my options. I talked to doctors, a genetic counselor, family, and friends. Ultimately though, my husband and I looked at our children and suddenly it seemed the choice was made.
I have an option that my mother did not. I am armed with the knowledge of my BRCA 2 gene and with the opportunity to stack the deck in my favor. I will be having a prophylactic double mastectomy in order to reduce my chances of having to go through the grueling experience my mother, aunt, cousin, a friend, and so many women must. Will this surgery guarantee that I will never get breast cancer? No. Will it drastically reduce my chances? Absolutely. And that is enough for me.
You see, Mom had just turned 37 when she had me. I was 21 when she died. I was a few months from 38 when I had our youngest child. I certainly want to see him grow older than 21. So, back to the distracted, scared, nervous, but secure, confident, and content comment. I am all of those things. I think I wouldn’t be human if I approached major surgery cool as a cucumber! I am fully secure, confident, and content with my decision…but I am distracted, scared, and nervous because this is unknown territory for me. I’ve never had major surgery. People keep telling me how brave and strong I am. I wish cancer were the type of thing I could fight with my muscles. I’m much stronger than I look, yo! But it isn’t. It is the type of thing someone must fight with a brave face and her inner strength.
I am lucky. I am walking into this surgery perfectly healthy with no cancer in my body. I will be in pain and uncomfortable for a while, but then I’ll be fine. I’ll recover and go on with my life as usual. God willing, I won’t ever have to experience chemotherapy or radiation. I may seem brave and strong to others, but mostly I’m a mom, wife, daughter, sister, and friend who would like to be around for a long time.
Written by Marie Smith
InnerStrength Trainer, wife and mother of 5