Canary in a Coal Mine

I’m not sure I would have said this a year ago, but I’m glad it was me.

Could I have been strong enough if it were my sister, or my mother? I’m glad I found that lump early and having removed all breast tissue, my run-in with hereditary breast cancer will be put to rest shortly after this 2014 year ends.

However, I would be naive to believe that what is to come soon after this will be a path lined with roses. You see, my family history prompted a genetic test, and that is how we found my BRCA 1+ status. Because of that telling lump, we found out that my Mother too shares this genetic mutation.

We’ve all heard that history repeats itself. I’m grateful this won’t be the case this time around. Breast cancer will not take my Mother away from me, the way she lost her own almost 38 years ago. Soon after my chemotherapy wraps up, Mom will have her prophylactic double mastectomy. It was a difficult decision to make, but after seeing what cancer has done to her mother and now her daughter… what are the alternatives? Doctors told her she could subject herself to biannual MRI’s and Mammograpy. Trouble is that every exposure to radiation creates a risk of kicking that BRCA gene into action.

The What Ifs are just too great here. What if by the time she were to find cancer, it would be too far gone? What if at her age she couldn’t handle the chemotherapy as well? Why go through chemo at all if she doesn’t have to? What if she were lucky enough to fall in that narrow margin of BRCA+ people who don’t ever develop cancer? What if?

And while we’re asking questions, how will I watch my Mom go through this while my scars are still so new? I am afraid of facing again what my body and brain have barely begun to process. So much had been numbed out in the post surgical narcotic haze that kept me from feeling too much. I kept looking forward and marching on, and now when I look forward, I see this same surgery… and I’m terrified all over again.

My decisions for surgery were weighted heavily by my desire to be around to raise my young son, among other reasons. I am grateful that Mom is taking a proactive choice too, and while her child rearing days are over, her children and grandchildren need her around for a long time to come. In both situations, hers and mine, these breasts are given in sacrifice, and in return we are hoping to increase our days on this earth. We can only hope…

I will be there for you Mom, just as you have been there for me through all of this. Remember when I came to you 9 weeks post-op and told you that I was finally starting to feel comfortable in my body again? You will get there too. And when our scars have healed enough, we will go get some awesome looking nipple tattoos together. (or maybe some other cool tattoos to commemorate our sacrifices and our fight to carry on in spite of it all!) Everyday we’ll heal just a little more…



8 thoughts on “Canary in a Coal Mine”

  1. You are amazing!!! You are helping so many people, including me.

    Thank you for for your beautiful blogs.

    Love, Win

    Sent from my iPad


  2. My sweet Melissa, you are an amazing person and I love you so very much. Through all of the tough times we have had to go through with your surgery and treatments thus far, I am feeling blessed that we have grown in our loving bond together and that you are well on your way to recovery. I will always be here for you and your sister as we share a family bond that no one or nothing can tear apart!
    Love you,

  3. You are pretty awesome, Melissa. And when you’re ready for those tattoos, there is an amazing artist not far away, at Guts’n Glory in Rosendale. A mom, just like us, sensitive and gentle–and talented. Gen Pistol helped with my transformation, turning my mastectomy scar into an explosion of cherry blossoms, a reminder that rebirth is indeed possible.

  4. dear melissa,

    i feel like if i really wrote what is in my head right now it would be as long as all your blog entries put together. please know that i’ve just now sat down here and read every single word you’ve written from the beginning. i fought tears the whole time, but wish i would have just let myself cry.

    first, i saw your henna head on FB. i couldn’t quite make out the photo, but it really struck me as being something important. so i tried to read more to see what was going on. i realized it was YOUR head. i couldn’t quite figure out what would inspire you to shave your head. as i started to try to imagine, i flashed on a quick visual…please please don’t let it be from cancer. of course now i know.

    i had a root canal this summer too. i wound up in the hospital for a few days and the complications of the whole thing were crazy. since then i’ve had some weird pains in my chest and throat that i’ve been chalking up to that procedure, but secretly i can’t help but thinking it’s something else. something like this story here. i have quite a lot of cancer in my family as well. your story gives me the courage to check into this and to above all else get my life strong, period.

    after reading your post about looking for things to make you laugh i’ve been trying to think of things to suggest…i don’t know your taste in humor at all…but i can tell you that my new favorite video comedies are “this last week” with john oliver. it’s an hbo show that started this summer but almost all segments of it are on youtube and he’s hilarious, maybe you know him already from the daily show? and all louise ck stuff, but he’s been around for long enough that you probably already know about him.

    after i cut all my dreads off i got a long blond wig for some costume party and had a really interesting time wearing that thing for months afterwards when i lived in woodstock. i highly recommend it to anyone who lives in a small town. there is something to being totally unrecognizable and anonymous in sunflower or walking on tinker street, and so liberating.

    thank you so much for listing all those charities!!! f’ing A!

    i’ve had a blog for my bunnies for years. a few years after i started it one of my rabbits got cancer. for a variety of reasons i chose to blog about his situation. it is so intense to share such painful and personal stories online in this format. his cancer lasted for about a year, it was inoperable. his brother has or had the same cancer…he’s now an 11 year old, three legged bunny. the blogosphere is an amazing support network and not one for the faint of heart as an author. especially when suggestions come in that seem to question you and your best judgement or feeling like you have to explain yourself and your choices when you’ve thought about everything so much you can’t stand to do add any more energy to an explanation and people’s well wishes somehow unravel every single thing that has been holding your fragile self together. melissa, thank you so much for doing this and for sharing your story and for allowing all of us to add our tiny flickering flames to the roaring bonfire that blazes prayers for you.

    you are heroic. you are beautiful. you are loved. you are love. you are doing THE work. you are you. you are. the inspiration and courage of and in your words will reach far beyond your circle of friends. your unflinching bravery, wisdom and vulnerability that you’ve been generous enough to share will ripple forever and outlive us all. from everywhere and everyone who reads this thank you for sharing your story and for living your life as only you can do in your most magnificent melissa way.

    with much love and admiration.

    1. Thank you Patricia. I, in turn, was so moved by your comment. Not sure where you are in the world now, but I’m sending out a big hug to you. Please don’t wait… Get checked out and hopefully put those fears to rest. One foot in front of the other.

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