Like Ms Jolie my mother died of cancer (technically a secondary cancer that spread from the original breast cancer). She was a few days shy of her 46th birthday when she died after 4 or 5 years of fighting the illness.
I know that because of this statistically my chances of contracting cancer are approximately double that of the rest of the population but I have never been tested for the faulty gene that Ms Jolie carries. Partly, this is because I’m neither very old nor a mother and partly its because my mother is the only member of my family to have had such an early onset cancer.
Her elder sister has fairly recently been diagnosed with breast cancer much later in life [this probably means that despite the location it was an entirely different type of cancer] and my Father’s aunt also has cancer but of a different type.
Nonetheless, I have been thinking about what a genetic risk of cancer means for me and what I might do about it. After my step-mother was also recently diagnosed with breast cancer and with my 30th birthday fast approaching my father has recently asked me to talk to my Doctor about screening. It seems a big step to consider what options the NHS might have for me with regard to earlier and more frequent tests (not normally offered to lower risk younger women) and an even bigger step to consider both genetic testing and a mastectomy. Yet, I want to be responsible and to think about the impact of my health on the people I care about – if I could prevent my loved ones watching me go through debilitating treatments and potentially dying 20 odd years before my time should I do it..?
My immediate answer must be yes. I wouldn’t wish my childhood experiences of cancer on anyone. But..
(You knew there was a but right?)
I’m not quite 30 and I don’t have children. At this stage in my life the idea of having children and possibly breast-feeding them is still more important than a statistical chance. I don’t think my breasts are the arbiter of my femininity or that I am less me without them (though I imagine it would be a shock to the system) and I don’t think that breast-feeding is a sign of true motherhood but I do think that personally I’d rather try for kids before messing with the status quo. Furthermore, I’m not ready to deal with the potential hormonal and emotional repercussions of such testing and surgery whilst kids are still a possibility. If (like Jolie) I already had children perhaps I would be more concerned with their future and how much time I could offer them but right now I am well aware that the knowledge of genetic issues combined with the physical effects of mastectomy might be enough to stop me from ever having children and I don’t want that to be the reason for our choice.
If I have a mastectomy I want it to be after we have children – and if I test positive for the gene, removal of the ovaries is also a consideration – but after kids.
Maybe that is selfish. Maybe its naive. But the fear of not being enough of a mother because I don’t have one to guide me can’t be enough of a reason to cut out a part of the mother I want to be. I would – will – actively protect my family through surgery if necessary but I can’t give up on making the family stronger because I am afraid of statistics.
Another year another CAMRA beer festival
A somewhat rearranged and controversial affair this year, it was at least blessed with some sunshine.
For me though it was mostly a reminder that I am older and more broken than I once was.
It seems rather frighteningly that I have been volunteering at this festival for almost ten years. I have done my time at the bar, sat behind membership and at products (kind of a CAMRA gift stall that also does soft drinks); I have run backwards and forwards on traditional pub games, shouting and hustling for all I was worth; I have hefted scaffolding, built bars and lugged firkins; I have worked for a number of years on the cellar team and for plenty of that time I have also worked at the pub.
Double shifts are exhausting.
Somehow every year I forget just how exhausting.
The last couple of years have really taken their toll on me. The new type of breakdown and subsequent anti-depressants reduced the amount of exercise I was taking and helped me pile on the weight [In the c. 4 months I took Mirtazapine I put on over a stone & the same in the 6 months I took prozac before that]. Worse, the last 2 and a half (plus) years of shoulder pain and 9 months of knee issues have left me constantly exhausted and unable to do a fair number of my normal activities.
Some days I notice how much movement, strength and energy I have lost.
Physically and Mentally.
On a related but very different note – I think I get more pissed off every year at the self-righteousness of CAMRA members and volunteers about how much better They could run the festival.
Have you ever walked the line between the DOOM in your head and the absolutely resolutely sensible getting-by day person who is busy not making a fuss?
I am currently very quietly running around screaming. Absolutely completely panicking about my thesis and its state of unfinished ridiculosity. Dreaming about it, waking up in cold sweats about it, crying at inopportune moments because of it, giving up sex and forgetting to eat because of it and pretending its no big deal.
The world still requires my presence – I have to get up and go to work, buy food, walk the dog, talk to people and plan my future as though I am not having a crisis with every breath and I think I might be losing it.
Though the desire to sleep incessantly is pretty strong mostly the fight is to keep away from my razor blades. Although I have slipped into my bad habits once or twice since the last time I really crashed you can’t tell – the scars on my arms are nearly a year old and finally fading to silver to match the rest. It has really been 3 months since i touched the blades at all.
I fantasise about it everyday – and its getting worse.
I don’t think there is any way to explain to someone who has never felt it the pull addiction has. I have other coping mechanisms: people to call, things to do – but that quick sharp sting and the soft flow of blood is still the first and last image in my mind when I can’t quite cope. I guess alcohol and heroin in their way offer that same stupid siren song. The ease with which I could make a mistake isn’t a worry its a comfort just like the knowledge a little more is a little better.
For now I have it locked down, a treat I must deny myself, like chocolate and sleep. I keep on saying that maybe tomorrow I will relent, I just have to wait til tomorrow, keep holding on.
But soon .. soon I will be too tired to care about tomorrow and consequences; soon just making it through today is all I can hope for.
Have you ever waited for someone to die?
There are many ways of waiting, we are most used to it being years in the future but sometimes we can watch it get closer. Even when you don’t know the person well any sort of personal connection makes the experience surreal. You have to start planning for when they aren’t there any more and your brain starts make leaps between present and past tense.
Tonight some distance from where my wife and I have our marital home her uncle is in the final stages of cancer. He has recently been moved into a hospice and now its just a matter of time. There is nothing we can do and no consolation to be offered we are just waiting for the call to say its over.
It brings back bad memories – but right now I just want to be supportive.
Somewhere nearer to home a friend is fighting to keep her fight against cancer going. She’s been told its aggressive and that she’s dying. This time the radiation barely kept it under control for a couple of months and as her body gets weaker she wants to keep trying. Soon I will find out whether they have decided she is well enough for a new round of chemo. I can only visit her and talk so she doesn’t feel alone and try not to feel like I’m waiting for the next round of bad news.
W’s uncle has passed away quietly.
My friend is out of hospital for the time being and hoping to start chemo on thurs.