At the ripe old age of 8, pennies saved, I bought a special treat at summer camp. A charm bracelet. More than 40 years later I still have it despite numerous cross-country moves and a tendency toward getting rid of stuff. Packrat is not a word anyone would use to describe me. I do not know why I have held on to this fragment of childhood.
1970 Camp Wynakee charm bracelet
A couple of days ago I bought a charm for the first time since 1970. It cost quite a bit more than the last time I made such a purchase. Part of the proceeds from the sale of this charm went to support the only national non-profit organization dedicated to helping people who face hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. FORCE and its resources on both the local and national level have been indispensable for me and my BRCA1-positive family.
Silpada charm “Red Hot Love”
I don’t even own a charm bracelet, besides my tarnished vintage summer camp beauty. What possessed me to buy this pretty bauble? It seemed appropriate. Not only because it helps support a fine organization, but it is a reminder of one of the unexpected rewards that have been part of my personal journey this year as I’ve had one surgery after another to keep cancer from returning. Love, in so many forms has come my way from family, friends and perfect strangers. It’s been wonderful and humbling.
During the midst of a long and difficult hospital stay I learned my sister Anne had tested positive for the family mutation. Among the three girls in my immediate family, she is the only previvor. Wednesday is National Previvor Day. Yesterday, I sent my sister a care package filled with things she will find helpful during her own upcoming surgeries. Some love went in that package too.
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.