Tonight on the way home from work, I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a yahrzeit candle. Although I’m generally not superstitious, I don’t like to keep them in the house and so I buy them one-at-a-time, only as needed. I’ll light this one tomorrow night, marking the beginning of my mother’s third yahrzeit.
As regular readers of this blog know, my mourning has been complicated by the fact that just a few months after my mom’s death from exceedingly virulent triple negative metastatic breast cancer, we learned that I carry a BRCA gene mutation (inherited from her, we surmised) that significantly increased my lifetime risk of both breast and ovarian cancer. This same mutation (unbeknownst to us at the time) was a substantial factor in the rapid course of my mother’s disease.
Looking back, sometimes the time feels like three seconds and other times like three millennia. In addition to living without her for the last three years, I’ve spent nearly as much time living with and learning about the BRCA mutation I carry. Thankfully, I haven’t had to walk this path alone.
In addition to the outpouring of love and support I’ve received from all of you—my family, friends, and colleagues, both in real life and virtually—I am especially and deeply grateful to my sisters in the FORCE community. As the organization's full name, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, suggests, these women—each of whom comes from a family that struggles with hereditary cancer syndrome that all too often leaves gaping holes where mothers, grandmothers, aunts, cousins, and sisters used to be—willingly and lovingly stepped up, taught me what they knew, answered my questions, shared their experiences, and saw me through a complete hysterectomy in 2010, and, in 2011, a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with autologous reconstruction that was complex, multi-phased, and not without complications—some of which continue to this day.
Initially, as I grappled with an overload of medical information, an abundance of emotional stumbling blocks, and ongoing mourning, I was surrounded by generous and unyielding support from women who had been empowered to face their own BRCA challenges head-on and, despite lingering physical and emotional scars, were moving forward in their lives, even as they were passing along to me what others previously had given to them.
Now it’s my turn. Last December, I was invited to join the ranks of FORCE’s volunteer Outreach Coordinators, a role that I, like my predecessors, have taken on willingly and lovingly in the hopes that I, too, can step up to help other BRCA-positive women as they come to terms with their genetic mutations and decide upon which positive, life-affirming steps are right for them.
Because FORCE is a grassroots, not-for-profit organization on a shoestring budget, it, of course, faces a constant need for funding. As I mark my mother’s yahrzeit tomorrow night, I am hopeful that you might consider a contribution to this incredible group that’s been there for me and so that I can be there for others. Your support will help ensure that none of us in the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer community ever will have to walk this bumpy road alone.
Thank you for the innumerable ways you have supported me on this unanticipated journey. I am grateful to each of you. xoxo.