Cheese, BRCA 1 & 2, and #healthiswealth.

If I had a dollar for every time someone said to me “oh, so you’re doing the Angelina Jolie thing?”, I would have ten dollars. Maybe. And sure, in the sense that we both had bilateral mastectomies, they would be right. But there is quite a difference between Tomb Raider and I- she carries a BRCA 1 mutation and I don’t. Because she has a gene mutation, she was told that she had about an 87% chance of developing breast cancer. Mrs. Smith opted to pursue something call a prophylactic mastectomy (sometimes referred to as a preventative mastectomy), which seems to have been a wonderful option. She also opted for reconstruction, but I don’t have time to blather about that.

When I was diagnosed, a myriad of appointments were scheduled for me, and speaking to a genetic counselor was one of the first things I did. After watching my mom survive breast cancer, and then watching my grandmother do it eleven years later, I figured I should probably get some testing done. When I brought it up to my GP, she stated that I could do it but that I “was young and it was expensive”. Both are true, of course. My mother had just done her own testing, only for BRCA 1 & 2, which both came back clean (sans mutation), and my grandmother was old enough that testing wasn’t really seen as a helpful option.

So my genetic counselor and I mapped out my family (to the best of our ability because I don’t know shit about my bio-dad’s family) and opted to test the eight major genes that are considered high risk for cancer development. I figured that shit would come back with mutations across the board because…duh…it’s me. The test results took forever to be analyzed and it took me even longer to get in for the results, so in that time I had already had my surgery, had my drains removed (for the first time), etc. Justin and I both went into the appointment with trepidation, both of us assuming that things were going to be terrible- we wouldn’t be able to have children because I would just pass on a bunch of shitty shit to them…

Lo, and behold!

Not a single mutation. Nothing that explained why my body wanted to murder me slowly. The mix of disbelief and surprise was fleeting when reminded of the actual statistics of breast cancer. So I am not genetically mutated, but I still have cancer. And my mom isn’t genetically mutated, but she still had cancer. Granted, these tests aren’t 100% guaranteed, but come on, science and shit- they’re right. We must just be those fluke humans that develop cancer due to stress. I think that’s why it’s important to tell my story. So many people (read: women) have said to me “but you’re so young and healthy!”. First off- thank you. I am young and I am healthy. And then they follow that up with “I should get checked out”, to which I reply emphatically “YES, YOU SHOULD!”.

Here’s the thing: I AM young and I AM healthy. Sure, I smoked for five years. Yes, I ate meat. Yes, I did drugs. Yes, I engaged in risky behaviors because that’s just the natural course of life for a lot of young women in America. But I am a vegetarian, I engage in regular physical activity, and I live my life as exuberantly and as safely as I can. That “but you’re so healthy” is a real double-edged sword for me. I often feel like women are subconsciously judged for their life choices when they’re diagnosed. I certainly have felt that. But I also get the sense of disbelief that this could happen to a young woman. So really, dial it back, world. For those of us who don’t have a gene mutation, there is no cause and there is no cure.

Sure, sure. I could go vegan. I could go sugar-free. I could do a lot of things that I’m not doing to help/prevent/kill my joy. The beloved and I have talked about going sugar-free, but it sounds like a lot of work and we’re already incredibly stressed and anxious as it is. My mother reminds me about giving up dairy products because of my diagnosis. There is estrogen in cheese, she says. I will lower my risk of recurrence, she says. But you will pry this Brie from my cold, dead hands!

giphy

This brings me to the #healthiswealth portion of my rant. Guess what? No, it fucking isn’t. It doesn’t matter how many kale and avocado shakes you make, your chances of getting cancer are still the same. You can buy one of those horrid Juicero things and squeeze your sustenance out of a plastic garbage bag for $400 a day and still get cancer. Bad things happen to good people, good things happen to bad people, diseases happen to young people, and evil people live forever. My point is enjoy life responsibly, be aware of your body, and do your research.

Women don’t do anything to deserve breast cancer, but it happens.

*
*
*
*

Update time!

My drains were removed on Monday due to them trying to physically escape from my chest cavity. Who knew that my body wouldn’t love foreign objects sewn into it?! This means that I am now cleared for all of the prerequisites for chemotherapy, and my port placement surgery is scheduled for this coming week. Chemo commences on June 1st and I will have more updates on that treatment soon. It’s a bit to digest at the moment, but isn’t all of life?

Thank You.

I have received a lot of feedback regarding this blog since I started it. The stories ranged from my best friends to people in my ex’s family. I cannot be more grateful for you- you who sent words of encouragement, you who shared your own stories, you who empathized with me. Those of you who reached out to me? Thank you eternally for your contact. It is truly wonderful to connect with you and hear your powerful narratives.

The one sentiment that I keep running across in these messages is ‘thank you for saying that’, ‘thank you for speaking out in public’, and ‘I know what that’s like’. This should not be a trend in conversation. I should not have to hear this from my peers.

I speak out (now) about my experiences because I am tired of hiding them. Am I over it? Of course. Am I sensitive to certain topics? Sure. Though I am pretty desensitized to media and communication (because of how I choose to view it), I still feel the fall-out of many assault-related incidents. I feel pain for women who are victims of campus assault. I cry for women who are victims of domestic abuse. I cry for those humans who aren’t taken seriously- who are looked at as ‘sluts’- and are shamed for their actions against their perpetrator. I see you and I hurt for you.

This post stems from a conversation I had with one of my best friends- a woman I have known for ten years- a woman who has literally seen me through the shits and shallows. She has been there for me- through cases of PBR and cases of wine- and has never wavered in her love. It’s difficult to think about life-long relationships, but she is that human for me.

Recently, we were watching Harry Potter: And the Bullshit of Bullshitzekeron and she mentioned how ‘proud’ she was of me for speaking up about my assault. It took me a minute to realize that she was talking about my rape experience- a thing I mentioned briefly along with the experience of other abuse in a blog. I didn’t even realize she was talking about that because I never bring it up. Who wants to hear about that?

It took me a hot minute.

Did I mention that?

I guess I did.

It’s not a thought to me anymore, dear readers. It is a thing that happened and it was a thing and it is in the past and goodnight. I am who I am and I have moved on, etc. But she made me reflect on that moment- who am I to ignore it? Who am I to forgive what happened? If I do, I only support that idea that assault is okay.

And so, here it is- when I was sixteen years of age, my then-boyfriend, whom I had traveled across states to see, had invited his friend over. The intentions were clear to him, apparently- not me. When said friend arrived, boyfriend blocked the door. He helped hold me down while his (and this is just me recounting the facts, not being a body-shaming dick) obese friend writhed on top of me. After it was all said and done, I was told to leave and go sleep in my designated bedroom (he was from a nice Mormon family, y’all). I was nothing. I was a shell.

The next morning, he came upstairs and whispered to me that I was a ‘slut’ and that I ‘had asked for this’. That motherfucker gas-lighted me all the way from PA to NY and all I could do was cry or internalize it. I didn’t tell anyone for years. Why would I? It was disgusting. I felt culpable. It was my fault. It was just a thing that happened because I was stupid enough to let it happen.

Thousands of women experience the same thing every single year…so why bother mentioning it?

My friend’s response to a flippant comment I made is why I bother. Women who have experienced this type of cruelty is why I bother. Women in general is why I bother BECAUSE: one out of every three women you know has been affected by sexual assault. BECAUSE: every 2 minutes an American is sexually assaulted. BECAUSE: 54% of my age group is at risk for sexual assault. Because this is important. It is not a joke.

I normally pride myself on my transparency in life- I’m not one to bullshit around the bush. But she was able to call me on something I’ve been silent about. She was right- why should I ignore the pervasive issue of female assault? One can’t ignore how it is treated in our media. Every single day we see a new case of assault- and every single day we do our best to ignore it. Someone will do something. There will be some sort of law enacted. It could never happen to me…

Our media ignores what it means to survivors of assault- it makes it okay to feature subjects where violence against females is totally acceptable. While I am a total consumer of media and understand the necessary prevalence for violence against anyone, I fail to see the fun in the idea of violence against women now. Maybe I’m getting old. I don’t know. There has to be some other way to entertain ourselves.

We don’t get to ignore this now. Women must stand up for themselves and for what they believe in. I’m not the greatest example because I took years to come to terms with my sexual assault, but I refuse to believe that it’s okay for any woman to be silent moving forward. If something happens, say something. Sitting on it is only detrimental to you. Trust me, I know.

You get to be happy.