The phone rang on Monday. It was June 19, 2017, 3:13PM. The call lasted 3 minutes.
The sweet-voiced but stoic genetic counselor from the hospital asked if I had a couple minutes to speak. I was sitting in my office at work, door closed, the quietness of early summer all around me. My skin went cold. Yes. I had a few minutes. “Your results are in”, she said, “And they are positive for a BRCA-1 mutation. With this mutation you carry about an 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer and a 50% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer.” Blackness creeping into the periphery. Tunnel vision.
I jotted down words as she spoke. Next steps. A letter will come in the mail, setting up this appointment and that, choices, options. “This is a lot to take in over the phone, I know”, she said with the specific brand of practiced kindness cultivated by good people who have to dole out bad news on the regular. Sincere but routinized.
I hung up the phone, acutely aware of the unreal quality the world around me had assumed. I feel it again now as I write, sitting in the same spot in my office, reliving that moment.
In the hours and now days that have passed since that phone call, I’ve bounced around through various points in Kubler-Ross’s stages of grief, spending most of my waking hours within the confines of denial and depression. The voice of denial in my head says things like “You weren’t supposed to have your results for another week, so maybe it’s a mistake, maybe the counselor gave you someone else’s results”. Even as I type this part of me still believes (wants to believe) that is true. When the depression is primary, I feel drained of all energy, all feelings, all hope. I want to curl up on the floor, a rock in a stream, and just let the time pass like water around the mass of me.
There is so much unknown from where I sit in this point in time. Could I already have cancer? What sort of long term impact will this have on my life, my family, my future, my body? Of the multitude of choices before me in the not-so-distant future, what will I decide on? With all this uncertainty spinning in my atmosphere I need something to ground me. And so here I am.
I believe in the power of narrative, of putting words and thoughts and feelings into black and white text. I believe the act of writing has the power if not to heal, then to make meaning and make sense. And that is what I’ll be trying to do here — sorting through this new reality that is truly not new at all. It is a truth that has existed inside me quite literally from the very beginning, a mutation. A potentially fatal flaw at the very core of my physical existence. DNA. Body by BRCA.
Thank you for reading.