Obviously, my genetic make up has been on my mind a lot these last 6 months…mostly in a way that makes me feel deficient, defective, and doomed.
But BRCA1 is just one of about 20,000 genes that form who I am. And it does not define me. While there are undoubtedly other defects and flaws existing, not yet identified, within my 23 pairs of chromosomes…there is also coding that makes me strong, smart, and talented.
I did genetic profiling through 23andMe about 4 years ago, and found out some marginally interesting things about my health risks and ancestry (but not my BRCA status). However, I’ve recently been playing around more with some of the third party tools that analyze the raw data from 23andMe and provide a far greater level of detail.
In these explorations I’ve focused primarily on health and wellness-related genetic indicators as this is something that has always interested me. I’ve been exploring ways to live the healthiest life I can for more than a decade…experimenting with modes of exercise and eating to see how they change the way I feel. Learning a bit about how my unique genetic make up may impact my response to things like exercise and food choices seems like a timely next step in this process for me.
So here is what I learned and what I am going to do with this knowledge (specific gene variations indicated in parentheses). Note: this is probably interesting to very few people other than me and maybe those curious about genetics:
My birthday was earlier this week. Number 34. Sort of like the turning of a calendar year, the beginning of a new year of life sets the stage for some serious self-reflection.
33 was not a great year for me. Certainly some wonderful things happened — I watched my baby grow into a full-blow toddler (who is happy, healthy, and amazing). I got back into a solid strength training routine for the first time in a few years. I passed my licensing exam, opening up new doors for my in my career. And I am immensely grateful for all of this.
But it has also been a year of tremendous sadness and loss. And I will probably primarily remember it as such.
Some days go by and I feel fine. Some even feel good, peaceful. On those days I can imagine my revised future and feel hopeful and happy. I can feel grateful for the family I have and excited at the prospect of expanding it further through adoption.
Other days I am overcome with sadness intersected sharply with pangs of self-doubt. I mourn the two lives-in-the-making I lost via miscarriage and ectopic pregnancy, and I mourn the future biological children I will not have. I feel like I have failed my spouse, my son, and my family. I have been so plagued by this feeling that I have not even had the guts to share this decision with my family yet (spouse excluded). I know they will be heartbroken.
The day I wrote my last post felt like a low point for me. Everything felt hopelessly murky and unclear. After work, I went to my regular weekly therapy session and echoed many of the same sentiments I wrote here — that the pro and con list seemed impossibly balanced, that my logical and “go with your gut” approaches were both failing me, that I didn’t know what step 3 in my decision making process could possibly be since I’d never needed to go beyond step 2 before. And I cried. Which if you know me really says something.
After wiping tears and checking my mascara in the mirror by the door, I left her office. On my walk across the parking lot I mindlessly grabbed my phone and opened Facebook, probably subconsciously looking for something to distract me from the pain I was feeling. But that’s not what I got.
Indecision. It’s not something I usually count among my many character quirks and flaws. I’m usually pretty clear on what I want and what my path forward is going to look like. But when I have faced dilemmas and conflicts in the past I utilize a system that typically allows me to reach a decision pretty easily.
First I approach things logically, weighing pros and cons of various options…and if there’s not a clear answer there I go with my heart. Usually keying in to what my heart wants is pretty easy. I remember when I was choosing which doctoral program to attend, there were two that came up pretty evenly on the logical pro-con list. But when I sat and thought about how I felt when I got my acceptances from each of the schools there was one what carried an indescribable feeling of excitement that the other just lacked. My brain couldn’t label it with language, but my heart had felt something and knew which school was the right fit for me. And there has not been a day that I’ve looked back and felt I made the wrong choice.
But the dilemma I am facing now seems to have short circuited that system. Logic is failing me…but my heart/gut can’t come to a clear answer either. I really cannot think of another time in my life I’ve felt this stuck.
At the very simplest level this where I’m at:
Pros of going ahead with surgeries ASAP: I maximize my chances of avoiding cancer and staying a live.
Cons: I give up my chance of having another (biological) child.
It’s pretty black and white — and feels like potential life being pitted against potential death.
But there’s so much more complexity just beneath the surface. This is just a snippet of the thoughts swirling around my head, confusing me:
Lately I feel like every time I catch up with people I haven’t seen in a week or two I have more bad news to share with them. Then yesterday I basically won the award for darkest conversation ever held at a bridal shower when a complete stranger and I talked for 30 mins about BRCA, cancer, and genetics. I also recently connected with a second cousin that I’ve never met, not for fun or for the sake of getting to know her…but to talk with her about this genetic mutation that she may be at risk for as well.
For the past couple of weeks the feelings of sadness, fear, and anger have been pervasive. This ectopic pregnancy has shaken me out of the place of peace it took me months to find after my BRCA+ diagnosis. It’s all of those same feelings all over again. That I’m broken, defective, a failure of a woman.
I’m riding on a pendulum swinging back and forth between two extremes.