I am Oneinforty. My name is Rebecca. I was, as is common in the Jewish tradition, named after my mother’s mother, Rose.
Rose died in the weeks before my parents were to be married in late 1969. She died of melanoma, which had spread throughout her body and had found its way into all of the nooks and crannies in the way that only cancer can. My parents married shortly after her death in a small wedding ceremony with no celebration. The end of Rose’s life overshadowed the beginning of the new life that my parents had planned together.
Years later in 2001, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. She was not surprised. She had always feared a cancer diagnosis of her own after watching her mother struggle and succumb to the disease. But as my mother’s oncologist read her the results of her biopsy report in a small office on the Upper East Side of New York, the twin towers were falling to the ground in lower Manhattan. The deaths of hundreds of innocent people that day overshadowed my mother’s grief as she tried to make sense of her own cancer diagnosis.
A lumpectomy, more surgery seeking cleaner margins, chemotherapy, hair loss, illness, and finally radiation followed. And though it was still somewhat new science in the early 2000s, so did a test for the BRCA gene mutations. My mother, as her mother likely would have too, tested positive.
My father encouraged me to also have genetic testing, so three years later after my second child was born, I had the test. I discovered that, like my mother, I am positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. An oophorectomy and frequent breast MRIs and mammograms followed. And in 2015 when I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I was not surprised. I had always expected a cancer diagnosis knowing that I shared my grandmother and my mother’s genetic legacy.
Mastectomies and breast reconstruction followed. And throughout this time, my oldest son prepared for his bar mitzvah. While the surgeries were, of course, disruptive, they were not life threating. And the joy of watching my son become a bar mitzvah overshadowed my experience with breast cancer. Indeed, I was the beneficiary of early detection achieved through frequent monitoring made by possible by knowing that I had a BRCA gene mutation.
Six months after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mother received her second breast cancer diagnosis. And months after that, she was also told that she had stage four pancreatic cancer. Mastectomies and reconstruction, chemotherapies and experimental drugs, tumors in her brain and lungs, and finally pulmonary embolisms followed. Almost three years after being diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, my mother died.
Abdominal MRIs and endoscopic ultrasounds have now replaced my breast MRIs and mammograms. I take comfort in knowing that, if I am diagnosed with pancreatic cancer one day, it will likely be caught early, like my breast cancer was. I trust that early detection achieved through frequent monitoring made possible by knowing that I have a BRCA gene mutation will mean that a diagnosis will not be life threatening.
My name is Rebecca. I am the namesake of my grandmother, Rose. I carry a BRCA2 gene mutation, the genetic legacy that killed both my grandmother and my mother. But my life will not be overshadowed by cancer.