This I Believe

Stephanie - Manchester, Missouri
Entered on November 28, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: family

This I Believe…

I am a mother. I would willingly give my life for either of my children—instantly, unequivocally. Most mothers I know would do that. (To be fair, most fathers I know would, too.) But few of us are ever put in the position to have to “walk that talk.”

Well, it happened to my mother. Of course, in her case, she was not really faced with the choice. It was thrust upon her. And the unfairness and pain of it all is now something we share, she and I. She, as the parent who is dying. I, as the child who gets to live…and knows it.

When my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, a savvy doctor noted that Mom had also battled breast cancer, some years prior. The doctor suspected that Mom carried one of the so-called Breast Cancer Genes, which predisposes women to both breast and ovarian cancers. The doctor recommended genetic testing, and after Mom had been treated and had gotten her cancer into remission, testing confirmed she carried the gene. Which meant, of course, I needed to be tested.

When I was notified that I, too, had tested positive for the gene mutation, I was devastated. I had done my research into what a positive result would mean. I knew the very high odds I faced of developing both breast and ovarian cancer.

I also understood what it meant for my own children. I agonized about whether I had unwittingly passed it along to my boys. As a mother, it was excruciating to contemplate how I might have complicated or endangered their lives. Though ramifications for males are less severe, I worried about future granddaughters.

As a cruel coincidence of timing, I received my positive result on the very day that my Mom got the word her cancer had recurred. It was devastating. She had been through such hell the first time around with de-bulking surgery and chemo. I couldn’t tell her my result. I now knew the fears that a mother with the gene faced; I really did not want to realize that nightmare for my own mother, especially on that day.

It was several days later that I sat on a stool at the foot of Mom’s chair, and held her hands. Together we cried about her recurrence. And after I told her my own news, we cried again. The whole situation was agonizing.

And swirling into the sorrow, like cream into coffee, was guilt—as illogical as it was. Mom felt “responsible,” for giving me the gene. Though she knew that identification of the gene mutation had only come a decade ago, she still felt horrible that it had happened, and that I now faced some huge challenges.

As for me—my guilt was darker. Even as I raged at the universe for torturing my mother with ovarian cancer, a nasty little voice nagged me in the very back of my mind, reminding me that it was only because of her illness that I even knew to be checked.

My mother is battling for her life, and in my heart I know ovarian cancer is killing her. It is a tug of war I hope she will be winning for quite a while. But I know. I know. And the terrible irony of all of it is that her illness has saved my life by giving me other knowledge.

I believe knowledge is power. But I also now believe that it does not come without entanglements. Such as emotional pain, and the imperative to act upon that knowledge responsibly. (Even if the actions are scary, difficult or painful.)

Within less than a year, I had a complete hysterectomy, a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgeries. But I am still grateful for the knowledge which, indeed, gave me the power to choose.

I have chosen life. Not just for myself and my family, but also for my Mom.

I want to give her knowledge in return. I want her to know that her sacrifice has not been worthless. That I have come through all of this as a strong and vital woman who will go on. I want her to know that I have maximized the only good that has come from what she has had to endure. My hope is that the mother in my Mom can cling to this…that as my Mother, she not only gave me life…she has saved my life.