Oct 20 2014
Cancer runs in my family. About nine years ago, when my aunt was suffering from ovarian cancer, after having battled breast cancer, doctors identified a mutation in her BRCA1 gene. Sure enough, this mutation is associated with increased risks of breast and ovarian cancer. My father tested himself and found that his DNA had the same mutation. This genetic mutation is either inherited from a parent or, with equal chances, is not.
I decided to get tested, and I learned that I, too, have a BRCA1 mutation known as 185delAG. This mutation, a missing piece in the 185th position of a very long strand of DNA, has been a part of my cells from the very start. News but not new; the newness was in knowing about it. This mutation is what is known as a “founder mutation,” which means that it’s thought to have originated from a single individual. Because this mutation has been found among Sephardic Jews as well as Ashkenazic Jews, some estimate that the mutation predates the dispersion of Jews after the destruction of the second temple in 70 CE. Read the rest of this entry →
Oct 14 2014
Last October, I wrote about how devastated I was to learn of a dear friend’s pregnancy-associated breast cancer diagnosis. I wrote in order to spread awareness of a rare disease and to honor her fight. This month–Breast Cancer Awareness Month–I write again about my friend. To again spread awareness, but now to honor her memory.
At the end of July, my friend’s husband had to tell their daughters–4 and not quite 2–that their mom wasn’t coming home again. She was a week shy of her 36th birthday. Despite nine rounds of chemo, the cancer had spread to her brain and spinal fluid. She’d been diagnosed only 10 months earlier.
I think of my friend daily. We knew each other for only four years, but we got together every other week for most of that time. It’s hard not to go to the places we frequented and not expect her to walk up. I see her sitting in my basement while our kids play together. I see her at my side as we sweated through a Stroller Strides class. I see her in my dining room during my daughter’s birthday party. I see her getting into her car and pulling away from my house for the last time. Read the rest of this entry →
Jul 22 2014
Secrets are not good for a healthy family life.
Discretion is. But secrets are not.
I was already in my 30s when one of my closest friends, the daughter of my mother’s best friend, told me that my grandmother had had multiple sclerosis and my own mother had a mild form of the same disorder. I remembered my grandmother being unable to walk, but my mother would never discuss why. If I asked, she’d say, “It doesn’t matter.” Read the rest of this entry →
May 27 2014
A few years ago, my mom’s cousin passed away from ovarian cancer. While I live far away and could not attend the funeral or shiva, I wanted to do something and so I wrote a note to each of her children, my cousins, sharing with them personal recollections I had of their mom and hoping that these memories would help bring them comfort. I also made a donation in her memory to the Ovarian Cancer Research Fund.
Since then, I have been receiving the Fund’s email updates and newsletters on a regular basis, usually a few times a month. They have been sitting in my inbox, or when I think to move them, in a separate folder, all unread. I can’t bring myself to delete them because what if, God forbid, I ever need to glean some tiny but important piece of information from them, and yet, I can’t bring myself to open them, because for the past 20 years I have been trying to move on and live a “normal” life. But the fact remains, I am an ovarian cancer survivor.
During my senior year of college, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 of a very rare but also very chemo-responsive form of ovarian cancer. After betting I could keep up with several friends in the gym and doing 200 sit-ups in one day, I woke up in the middle of the night in excruciating pain and drove myself to the emergency room believing I had appendicitis. (In hindsight, I should not have been driving and should have called 911.) Read the rest of this entry →
May 15 2014
In a conversation I had with my sister-in-law shortly after she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she solemnly told me to “just enjoy my children.” She only lived for nine months after her diagnosis, and during the course of her illness, I thought many, many times about those words.
Immediately after we had that conversation, I did spend more time just being around my kids, not rushing off to make dinner, or put in a load of laundry, or hide in my room with my laptop. I would interact with them more, watch them play. The importance of spending time with them was crushing in its urgency. The stark reality that no one really knows how long they have here in this life was in my face, all the time.
I’m not sure how long this attitude lasted. Maybe a couple weeks. Maybe less (I tend to be generous with myself in remembering things like this. It could have only lasted a couple days, honestly). But I do know that the first time one of my children did something that drove me up the wall, I felt an impressive amount of guilt. Read the rest of this entry →
Mar 4 2014
It all started innocently enough–with a nondescript letter from the hospital where I get my annual mammograms and ultrasounds (dense breasts, anyone?). It was included in the stack of mail that accumulated during our December pilgrimage to my sister’s ski house in Vermont (Christmas Day on the empty slope–a gift to the Jews, even if there are no available Chinese restaurants for dinner). The envelope’s only distinguishing characteristic was a sticker attached to the front. “Not a Bill,” it read. “Please Open.”
Inside was a form letter summoning me back to the hospital for additional scans of my breast. After consulting with the aforementioned-sister, who also happens to be an OB-GYN and multiple cancer survivor, we decided that there was no cause for alarm. I hadn’t received any ominous phone calls from my doctor. The follow-up appointment they scheduled was weeks away. And plenty of women are called back for additional views.
So I resumed my normal routine without panicking. Laundry. Lunchbox packing. Writing. Trips to Trader Joe’s. Schlepping to after-school activities. Rudimentary dinner preparations. The joys of typical suburban life. Read the rest of this entry →
Feb 10 2014
All the parenting news you probably didn’t have time to read this week.
-Do more equal marriages mean couples are having less sex? In short, yes. Or at least those were the findings of a study which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year. Check out the New York Times’ fascinating reporting on the subject, which is bound to be the topic of dinner table discussions for a while. (The New York Times)
-Losing a nipple can be a traumatic side effect of breast cancer surgery. After losing her nipple in a double mastectomy, one Israeli survivor spent a year studying with a silicon designer who specializes in prosthetics and invented the first ever a prosthetic nipple–filling an important niche for women all over the world. (JTA)
-Are Jewish day schools gender-typing our kids as young as preschool age? What is long-term impact of an elementary education that encourages Talmud study for boys and Challah baking for girls? These are the questions raised in a new book by Elana Sztokman and Chaya Rosenfeld Gorsetman titled, Educating in the Divine Image: Gender Issues in Orthodox Jewish Day Schools. Check out Tablet’s fantastic podcast interview with the book’s author. (Tablet Magazine)
-Here’s a novel idea: using beans to talk to kids about money and charity. Since kids often can’t compute number in the five or six digit range, this author suggests breaking down the family pie visually in order to foster a healthy discussion about giving and where the family finances get distributed. (The New York Times)
-Check out this poignant essay by Kveller contributing editor Adina Kay Gross about losing her father when her twins were just 18 months old and how she keeps his memory present in their day-to-day lives. (Modern Loss)
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Dec 2 2013
– Israel, which has one of the highest rates of breast cancer in the world, has many scientists advocating what may be the first national screening campaign to test women for cancer-causing genetic mutations common among Ashkenazi Jews. (The picture they chose to illustrate the piece is also causing quite a stir.) (NY Times)
– With her husband and her working full time, Lauren hired a full time nanny–but she never imagined her children would chose the nanny over her. (Salon)
– This article explores the changing paradigm of the “typical” American family. Never before have families in America been as racially, ethnically, and religiously diverse as they are today. (NY Times)
– Kveller contributor Galit Breen writes for HuffPost about being a Jewish mama who celebrates Christmas. (Huffington Post)
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Nov 7 2013
Deborah Cohan, OB/Gyn and mother of two, entered the operating room at San Francisco’s Mt. Zion Hospital to undergo a double mastectomy. Instead of being fearful and spiritless as many of us would be pre-surgery, Deborah opted to have a joyous dance party, and had her entire medical team breaking it down to Beyonce.
To make this hospital dance party story even more heartwarming, Deborah asked all of her friends to join in and make their own “Get Me Bodied,” dance videos too. And they did!
Kudos to you Deborah. You are one courageous lady (and an amazing dancer)!
Via Huffington Post
Oct 31 2013
“I’m a word person, but for this I have no words.” That’s how I started an e-mail to a good friend the day I found out she was diagnosed with aggressive breast cancer. It took me a full hour to process the news, and I spent the next several in tears. That was four weeks ago. Three weeks ago she told me what caused the cancer: her second pregnancy.
Today I’ve found my words again. Chalk it up to going through the steps of grieving–grieving over her diagnosis–but ever since she told me that because she created life, she’s now fighting for her own, I have been angry. Not angry at my friend, who wishes to remain nameless–“The message is the most important aspect,” she said–but angry that after having two kids myself and knowing a very fair share of other moms and having an OB/GYN in my family, I had never heard of pregnancy-induced breast cancer.
My friend never heard about it either, so when she noticed a lump in her left breast, she figured it was a clogged milk duct. She had no genetic history of breast cancer and felt fine. In September, when her second child was 10 months old, she sought treatment for a cough and pain in her chest, back, and shoulders. The doctor diagnosed pneumonia. At a recheck a week later, he found the antibiotics had done nothing. He sent her for further testing, and on September 27th, she was diagnosed with stage four (metastatic) breast cancer.
About 1 in 3,000 pregnant women will get it, according to the American Cancer Society, and it’s the most common type of cancer found during pregnancy or within the year after delivery. Read the rest of this entry →