I understand that life in general comes with unknowns and it’s always an unknown that you’ll get an illness prior to. But you can’t live your life thinking what if I get sick someday; though, PSA, it’s a good idea to be prepared with health insurance in case you do. That said, when you already have an illness and your staring down the barrel of unknowns, it is the scariest feeling in the world.
I have three good friends dealing with this in their everyday lives. Huge-hearted Iris, artist of my portrait, would retreat to the comforts of her home with only her closest loved ones for the weeks before a scan to show if her breast cancer was still at bay or had come back. Spunky Nellie’s monthly scans are the only way she knows if her lung cancer is still showing no sign of disease or if it has come back. Straight shooter Shyreeta has been through the ringer with month after month of doctor visits, pain and inconclusive tests, with still no official diagnosis. I’ve seen them and watched them and wished great health and happiness for them. I’ve seen their faces contort with pain as not knowing is terrifying, especially when it feels like life is on the line.
With my cancer, I felt lucky on the actual cancer side. My tumor was caught small and early and I knew I’d live. Yes, I’ve been through the ringer with weird complications and side effects, but however unpleasant, they all had repairs. That was until I had to get genetic testing. I saw a revered oncologist back in January of 2016. We discussed my whole history and discussed my family background as well. Our dad had died of pancreatic cancer in 2003 which, in a word, Sucked! It’s a horrible disease, one that still turns my heart when I hear someone new has it. With breast cancer, most people think of a BRCA gene mutation, but I learned from her that there are others and that she was particularly worried for me about PALB2, which links pancreatic and breast cancer, raising the risk for both.
So, here I was, with something big looming and the fear of the unknown creeping in on me. I had to fill out a bunch of family history paperwork and submit that, which took a while, then the first available appointment was months away on July 31, 2017. That day was a bit surreal, having to do a physical exam then sit down with the genetic counselor whose thorough descriptions were fascinating and intimidating. After, I gave blood which was shipped off with the thought of results in 2-3 weeks.
Those 2-3 weeks were hard. I felt like, this is it. I’m going to learn that I’ll die of pancreatic cancer and that it could affect my siblings too. I was spiraling. I put on 10 pounds of cortisol stress weight and could focus on little else. I got the call that my results were in and an appointment was set for August 17th. In a happy nutshell, I’m not imminently going to die of pancreatic cancer! I was tested for 24 genes and their mutations and tested negative for 24 including all the pancreatic ones. Huzzah! Yes, if you’re paying attention, I did test positive for one but, where my mutation lies has not yet been classified, so back to my second sentence above, I can’t live my life thinking what if I get sick again someday. I am grateful to have had this experience as I have such a different level of empathy for my friends and what they bravely go through.