Rachel’s Story

Today’s guest blogger is Rachel Pappas, whose website 1 Up On Cancer is a resource  with the aim of providing upbeat information for all cancers.


Taking a stand for my girl and me

After taking the hard line drive—hearing that I had a life-threatening illness—I asked the question that probably everyone who’s been there asks. “How did this happen to me?”
Then I went into overdrive. I asked myself, “What if ”c” (little “c” not a big one because the dragon scares me, but it’s not going to back me down) – but what if “c” were to happen to my husband, Paul; or my sister; or anyone else I love?”

I can’t help worrying. I freeze whenever the phone rings late at night, afraid this could be “the call.” The one about my dad. He has late stage prostate cancer. And almost every one of his siblings, his mother, his cousins and uncle … cancer.

I worry about my 20-year-old daughter, Marina as this monster disease extends more tentacles. So now I pin myself as Cancer Crusher and am on a mission. Task one was to go in for genetic testing. If we got the news I prayed daily we wouldn’t hear, my daughter, Marina would have a fifty percent chance of carrying a BRCA gene mutation. That practically guarantees you get breast or ovarian cancer – unless you make the huge decision to give up these female parts of you. I had enough of the risk factors to keep me up at night, worrying about her. I scheduled the tell-tale blood test.

Finally I’m across from the flush-cheeked, cheery genetic counselor who loads Paul and me up with the data. The data that tells you the odds you’re a carrier and that your daughter has this mutation that she just can’t have. With the numbers she just gave me floating in my head – I’m at the nurses’ station watching my blood spill into the first vial. I realize I’m now like the lady in the big recliner across from me, curled in a blanket on her cell phone flipping through her day timer. I’m like the one who just dropped a tin of brownies with the nurses, who’s talking about the grocery store run she’s got to make before her kids get home from school. You just go on with life like it’s any other day because you have to, like stopping for a traffic light or paying your electric bill.
Eight days come and go, and Paul and I are waiting for our gypsy genetic counselor to pull my fortune from the manila folder from Myriad Genetics. She scanned the top sheet while we waited for the verdict, but her expression gave her away before she got the words out. No mutations!

I couldn’t wait to get on the phone with my Marina. I hadn’t wanted to rattle her. But I’d felt compelled to tell her something. “You’re probably just fine. But if by some chance you have it, you would want to think about having your breasts removed. Women who do that can have reconstructive surgery. The new ones look as real,” I said, sparing the unnecessary details that the flesh on their stomachs and backs typically become their new breasts.

“The chances are low that I have the gene”, I tell her, though my secret voice is reminding me the odds are more than double what they were of getting this illness in the first place.”I’m just having this test so we know if we need to do anything later or if we can just forget about it,” I add, watching her eye me.

Waiting for Marina to answer the phone, so I could give her the news, my eyes were on Paul. A full-out, ear-to-ear grin had taken over my face as we sat in a booth ready to order brunch.

“Marina. Great news,” I bounced back to her sleepy hello. “We’re okay. You get to keep your boobies!” She laughed.

“Were you worried?” I asked, thinking she’d fess up now if she’d been a little shaken.
“No, not really,” she yawned. “It sounded like everything was going to be fine.”

I’d had the same feeling after the consult, but I just had to get mileage out of this excuse I was just handed to celebrate. To tell myself, I’m a “good statistic” this time, and my girl is going to be just fine.