Only a short time after Angelina Jolie’s bombshell op-ed in the New York Times appeared, she lost her aunt to breast cancer at age 61. Her mother died from ovarian cancer at age 57. All three women in Angelina Jolie’s family have a defective BRCA1 gene, just like three of the women in my family. We know her pain.
In the comments, interviews and editorials since Ms. Jolie announced her choice to undergo what my docs simply call “the BRCA surgeries” there have been many who do not agree that lopping off healthy body parts to reduce cancer risk is a good thing. Of course it isn’t. It is an unfortunate reality that preventative surgery is the best of the limited weapons at the disposal of high risk patients. What really sucks is that all the choices are awful.
As I approach the fifteen year mark as a breast cancer survivor, I am profoundly grateful just to be here to complain about these issues. My relative with ovarian cancer has put up one hell of a fight for the last five years. I doubt she has five more. Many of the experts I have heard in the Angelina uproar say that those BRCA positive patients who witness close relatives suffer with cancer are more likely to choose prophylactic measures. No shit. Cancer is brutal and very, very ugly. No one likes to talk about that. Think losing your breasts is bad? Try the monster that is Stage IV breast cancer or advanced ovarian cancer on for size.
That is all for today’s rant.
My Dad as a young man. He died of leukemia in 2004.
Blogging about the world of BRCA decisions, surgeries and recovery has been good for me. Now it is time for a new chapter in life, in more ways than one.
Recently my spouse and I made a huge decision. We are going to relocate to Green Valley, Arizona. Jim will continue to work for a few more years, but all he needs is to be close to an airport now that his accounts are spread out all over the country. We are going to build a new home in a community that should suit us nicely today and in retirement. After fourteen years in our present home and decades in the Pacific Northwest it is time for a change.
Change is hard even when it is good.
The house I live has been my home for longer than anywhere I have ever lived. I will miss this beautiful place. Last week our handyman discovered the crawl space under the house had been invaded by raccoons who destroyed virtually all of the insulation. Just to keep the party lively, a couple of squirrels and some mice joined in to add to the mess. Guys in hazmat suits will invade my crawl space for three days to repair the damage, remove the carcasses and piles of poop. Oy!
Today we bid farewell to the oldest of our three cats. We have known for some time this was coming. Not that it makes things any easier. Just less of a shock. Another big change. I am crying as I write this.
Time to move on.
I will see the medical tattoo artist on the 24th and that will be the very last step in the lengthy process of breast reconstruction. No doctors or other medical types for a while. That is a very welcome change indeed.
Count Catula loved to cook himself in front of the fire.
Today I said goodbye to the motorized recliner that helped me through last year’s BRCA surgeries. No tears were shed. I hated that thing. My neighbor was happy to purchase the chair at a bargain price. He is having hip replacement surgery soon. I wished him luck and waved farewell to the chair as it headed down the driveway.
So long my friend
Now, if I could just get the hospital to fix their billing error from more than a year ago, my life would be complete.
Random thoughts in no particular order:
A few days in Tucson has Mr. A. and me ready to pack our stuff and move there. The Sonoran desert is calling my name.
On Valentine’s Day with my sweetheart on the road, the highlight of the day will be showing my Frankenboobs to yet another stranger. A medical tattoo artist.
Green Valley, AZ on a fine winter’s day.
Ritz-Carlton at Dove Mountain. Only the hamburgers and the view were affordable!
At Thanksgiving throughout the U.S.A. when families gather for that traditional gut-busting meal they fall into one of two camps: Stuffing or Dressing. Being a good Yankee, I call it stuffing and it does not involve cornbread. Having lived a big chunk of my youth in Florida, I do appreciate the dressing faction and have enjoyed many a fine Turkey Day indulging in Southern favorites. This year the real issue for me is not what goes on the table, but what goes in my bra.
Yes, I have a boob-related stuffing or dressing dilemma.
Yesterday, at twelve days out from nipple reconstruction and a bit of a breast revision, the plastic surgeon removed some, but not all of my stitches. Overall things are healing well and I no longer have to use multiple layers of 4X4’s cut with a small window so the nipple is even with the dressing. No goopy anti-biotic ointment either. Permission granted to wear something other than the uncomfortable surgical bra. So, what’s the problem?
Either I have to stuff my bra so the remaining stitches do not catch on the fabric or I have to tape dressings into place. Even the gentlest tape pulls at tender skin and I’d rather avoid it. I’m in that stage where my nice old bras are long gone, new bras can’t be purchased and the interim bras I’ve had for the last several months are a bit too large now. The rest of the stitches will come out in two weeks. One way or another, I have to fill that space.
Today I tried out stuffing instead of dressing. The idea of stuffing my bra for the first time at age 51 is quite amusing to me. What’s next? Maybe an outbreak of adolescent zits. I guess I should just be pleased the plastic surgeon was not worried about the small pocket of fluid build-up on my left breast and will leave it alone for now. Whether I spend Thanksgiving with stuffing, dressing or both, I have much to be thankful for.
Christmas, 1976. All of the boys on my Dad’s side of the family posed for this snapshot, including Henry the dog:
The Pritchard Men
Only one of these men remains alive today. The rest all died from cancer. On the far left, my Dad’s brother, a brilliant engineer and entrepreneur, died from lung cancer. Uncle Bill was in his late 70’s and a reformed smoker. On the far right, is cousin Hugh, Uncle Bill’s son. He died at age 51 from cancer of the bile duct. He had complex health problems including diabetes. In the back is my Dad who died of leukemia in his late seventies. Leukemia and lung cancer also killed my Dad’s father and mother. In the middle, the young boy and lone male left in my family is my brother John at age 12.
My brother, now age 48, does not want to know if he carries a defective BRCA1 gene. Some of my uncle’s children have chosen to test for the gene and some have not. It is a personal decision. Not everyone wants to peek inside their own DNA. I get it.
I am not sorry that I chose to test. Nor do I regret the massive amount of surgery I’ve endured in order to thwart more cancer. Of the seven children born to my Dad and his brother, 3 are either cancer survivors or have died from cancer. Of these same seven children that comprise my generation, only two had kids of their own.
National Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Week is September 23-30th. I hope the next generation of my shrinking family knows their history. None of the four girls who are members of that next generation have the last name of Pritchard, but they have some Pritchard genes. My fingers are crossed they are not the crummy ones.