I have survived breast cancer twice. Nevertheless, when Paula Michelson, a friend from my Messianic congregation, sent me a rather lengthy cancer-related article from the Smithsonian last month in the midst of my law school final exams (to explain why she had committed to donate $1 from the sale of each copy of her recently published book, House of Blessing, first in her series Casa de Naomi, to the American Cancer Society), I came close to deleting it without reading it. I now praise God that I chose to read the article, which you may access on her website (see below).
The author explained that certain Jews have a genetic mutation that predisposes them to contract breast cancer and/or ovarian cancer. As I read it, I got goose bumps; the profile closely fit my own medical history and that of my mother, of blessed memory. I wondered whether my being Jewish might be the reason why cancer seemed to run in my family.
I immediately emailed the article to my oncologist, asking if I had ever been tested for the mutation and, if not, whether I should be tested. He responded by authorizing me to meet with a clinical geneticist.
In preparation for the appointment, I received a medical history survey to fill out. I was certain that this was serious business when I saw a category among the choices for ethnicity that I had never encountered on any other such list: Ashkenazi Jewish!
The geneticist determined that I was a good candidate for the blood test. He said that if I tested positive I should give serious consideration to proactively having my ovaries and my remaining breast removed before cancer had an opportunity to strike them. I had the blood test done that day (May 25). I then tried to put it out of my mind for the four weeks that he had told me I would have to wait for the results.
The two genes that were tested were BRCA 1 and BRCA 2. I don't know a lot of Hebrew, but it occurred to me that they almost perfectly spelled out “br’cha,” the word for “blessing!” This is the reason for the title of this piece. Only later did I learn that “BRCA” stands for “breast cancer.”
When I told my unbelieving adult son that this mutation didn't seem like much of a blessing, he replied that the blessing was in finding out about the danger in time to address it. I'm usually the one to find the bright side of things that seem dark, but this time he hit the nail right on the head. Nevertheless, I couldn't help thinking of one of Tevye's charming lines in my favorite musical, Fiddler on the Roof: “[to God] I know, I know. We are Your chosen people. But, once in a while, can’t You choose someone else?”
Since meeting with the geneticist, I have been on a personal campaign to inform Jews of the mutation and its effects. If you are Jewish, I urge you to look into this if there is any breast or ovarian cancer in your family—particularly early onset (before age forty-five). If you are not Jewish but know someone who is, please help me spread the word. I have since learned that the mutation also affects those of Dutch, Norwegian, and Icelandic ancestry. I also recently met a Hispanic woman who has it.
I met again with the geneticist on June 8 and learned that I do have one of the three mutations at issue. Therefore, I am preparing to give up the body parts that have a high likelihood of becoming cancerous if given the opportunity. I have accepted this without distress and have not cried at all. The relevant organs have fulfilled their purpose in my life. Having the surgery without first contracting cancer will mean that I won’t have to go through chemotherapy (as I did the other two times), which I see as a huge advantage.
I am tremendously grateful to Paula (who in turn is beside herself to think of what she did for me without having any idea at the time that she was doing it) for bringing the article to my attention. Please visit her website, www.PaulaWordsmith.com, where you may read about her book and purchase copies if you like and where you may access the article.
The week after I received my diagnosis, I met with a gynecologic oncologist whom I really like and scheduled the first of two surgeries for Monday, July 23 (as soon as my summer session ends). The other might not fit between that date and the beginning of my fall semester on August 23, so it will probably have to wait until late December.
My husband and I are confident that this is the right response to the diagnosis and that God will take wonderful care of me as He has in the past. Please pray with us for my continued peace of mind and health. We serve a gracious and loving God who knows our needs before we know them ourselves!