By Nell Boeschenstein – The Guardian.
Nothing wakes up a woman to the implications of her gender quite like being told the organs that make you female are literally threatening your life
Shortly after I tested positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation that puts women at a dramatically increased risk for breast and ovarian cancers, I landed in my breast oncologist’s office, querulously requesting a last-minute mammogram. I thought I felt something, which sent me straight to the worst-case scenario: there was indeed a lump, that lump was malignant, the cancer was aggressive, and I would soon be dead.
I was 30, single and trying to parse what it meant to have such a mutation inside my body. Some people handle potentially devastating news with equanimity, but for me it was the start of a full digestion of the grim truth, a process marked by nothing if not high anxiety. My visit to the oncologist’s office was among the first of many moments in which that anxiety TKO’d reality, because at some point between lying naked in bed with my arm over my head and the moment when the plastic plate of the mammogram machine pressed down on my breast and the technicians behind the wall pressed a button that would yield an image, a phantom had emerged: there was no lump after all.
Sitting in my hospital gown on the examining table after the false alarm, I was teary, embarrassed and alarmed at my unruly mind. The nurse was kind, quiet and firm. I needed to calm down, she said. There was nothing wrong with me. Then she said something I will never forget:
“This is only a small part of you.”
I knew what the nurse meant: I was more than some giant, walking genetic mutation. I was a daughter, a sister, a niece, a friend, a dog-lover, a horse-lover, a book-lover, a technophobe, a baker, whatever other descriptor I might own.
I didn’t disagree. I also didn’t think it was that simple. The risks were too high. The alternatives, so draconian. The word “cancer” too loaded with ammunition…read more.