DISCLAIMER: You’re about to learn a lot about breasts, which most moms and even a few dads have. This is important shit. But keep in mind, I barely understand science, have been known to meditate with “healing” crystals and often need all ten fingers and toes when dividing by 2. Good luck and happy reading.
A few weeks ago, I underwent genetic testing for cancer. The news wasn’t great. My Chek2, one of those important cancer-fighting genes, is like Caitlyn Jenner’s IUD: just for show and utterly useless.
This distinction earned me a free, lifetime membership in the elevated risk group at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa. My first meeting with that group’s doctor happened last week.
I went with the following questions.
“What exactly is wrong with me?”
I ask this a lot. Doc’s answers were different from the guys on Tinder.
Everyone has two sets of genes. With Chek2, like all cancer-fighting genes, a mutation or change in one alters its ability to fight cancer. This is why someone with a mutation has an elevated risk.
My story is a little different. One of my Chek2 genes is fine, doing the job it was designed to do.
The other is AWOL.
Similar to Bio Dad, who might be the carrier, my second Chek2 gene hauled ass and they can’t find it anywhere.
The genetics team said they conducted a thorough search. I fought the urge to tell them to go back and look behind the ketchup. Researchers conducted the test several times, but returned empty-handed, like my kids searching the garbage for their 900th retainer. That second Chek2 gene is simply nowhere to be found.
“What does this mean?”
In the worldwide database of people who have been genetically tested for cancer, I’m the only one with this particular medical issue.
That’s me. A category of one. To put it into perspective, that’s the same number of respected Osmonds.
You thought it was my worldview and eyebrows that made me unique. I’m like that guy who plays the ukulele backwards on a tightrope while touching his tongue to his nose. There might be others, but no one else has the balls to give it a try and find out.
When you visit a doctor, sometimes they have nifty statistics that put your mind at ease (80% of patients with your symptoms survive) or freak you out (20% of people with your symptoms suffer anal bleeding.)
In this situation, I’m the only statistic.
Doctors stared. Researchers smiled. All of them thinking, “I ain’t never seen one of those.”
Like rural Floridians when they find out I’m a feminist supporting school choice and Bernie Sanders for President.
“I had a breast reduction. Will spotting early signs of cancer be difficult?”
I didn’t make many good choices in 2007: turning vegan, moving to Colorado Springs, blogging for John Edwards.
I did have breast reduction surgery, though, and that procedure reduced my risk for breast cancer.
Most women who undergo reductions have fatty breasts. Again, not me. I didn’t have a reduction because they were fat. I had a reduction because I looked like one of those women who nurse all the tribe’s babies somewhere in the rainforest while posing for National Geographic.
My doctor frowned and I almost apologized.
Apparently, fatty breasts have one benefit: they’re easy to see through a mammogram. Dense breasts are a lot like the dense teenagers my children insist have “potential,” you can’t really tell what’s going on inside.
Yearly mammograms are a good idea, even for women like me because they spot calcifications. Calcifications can be old fibroids (enjoying breakfast?) which are harmless, or early signs of breast cancer.
MRIs can see through dense breasts FABULOUSLY. They’re like Jon Stewart, spotting bullshit a mile away. That’s why, if mom is the carrier, I’ll get yearly mammograms, yearly MRIs, weird experiments, and maybe a world tour.
“If mom is negative, will I need to consider a mastectomy?”
Sometimes you already know the answer to a question, but ask it anyway. Like, “Am I fat?” or “Does this smell weird to you?”
I was hoping Doc would say a prophylactic mastectomy is not really necessary, but she didn’t.
This is because, once again, there aren’t many females on Bio Dad’s side, and since I’m the only one researchers have ever seen with this particular missing gene, a mastectomy might be better than a 50-60% chance of breast cancer.
“What can I do to help reduce the risk?”
I had to ask, right?
According to cancer experts: Food that comes from the ground – good. Food that at one point walked around and shit on the ground – bad.
Avoid smoking, sedentary habits, and obstinate Geminis.
No foods that have estrogen, or provoke it – we want to decrease estrogen when thinking about breast cancer. So fuck tofu and fuck yams.
Fish is fine.
Then my doctor said, “Limit alcohol.”
Blink, blink, blink.
This is not something you tell a volatile Irish woman raising two sons and juggling five jobs, who believes “patience” is a virtue for the lazy and unmotivated.
How am I supposed to get through social events with people who think their ability to grow facial hair signals something deep and profound? How am I supposed to get through work functions with people who’ve never heard of Gertrude Stein? How am I supposed to get through editorial meetings where no one cares that originality only exists on a respirator in some remote part of the planet that no one visits anymore? How am I supposed to get through life?
Unfortunately, the doctor told me, estrogen loves fat. Fatty livers grow from the drink. Bottom line: 3 glasses of wine a week.
Four million moms are yelling, “I drink that in a day!”
I usually drink 5 or 6 glasses a week. “It enhances the meal,” is my official reason, because “Shut the fuck up” is rude.
Alas, buzzed-up dinners and any ensuing tolerance for stupidity are a thing of the past. I’ve been telling my kids for years that when someone loves you, depends on you, cherishes you – you lose the right to be self-destructive. Enjoy an isolated life and make lots of bad choices if you wish, but if you want loved ones, you’re simply not allowed to wreck yourself.
Now I have to abide by my own rules and lay off the sauce. It’s only a matter of time before my hippie friends get that call they’ve been waiting for since 1992.
“Dust off the old incense holders. Katie’s back on weed!”
We’ll find out soon if mom’s the carrier and whether I get to keep my breasts.
I need a drink.
UPDATE: My mother is positive. That’s right. Noreen is missing the Chek2 gene as well.
This means two things: 1) I get to keep my breasts…for now and 2) Noreen and I finally have something in common.