I’ve Never Been So Elated To Be Negative!
By: Jennifer Coleman, Sharsheret Peer Supporter
Today I received some of the best, most relieving news of my life: I tested negative for the breast cancer gene!
After losing my mother to breast cancer when she was 47, and I was 15, I asked every OBGYN I saw, at different ages of my life, and in the various states I lived in, if I should be tested for BRCA. To my surprise, all of them said, “No.”
Not long after I married my husband, Jon, in 2008, I read a beautiful breast cancer memoir, Pretty is What Changes, by Jessica Queller. As I read the book, I decided the OBGYNs were wrong: I absolutely should be tested. Jon and I met with a genetic counselor, but realized we weren’t yet ready to go through with the test, which would yield potentially life-altering results.
Two years later, I consulted my mom’s oncologist, who conveniently is a close cousin. He strongly agreed I should be tested. When I went for my annual OBGYN appointment in June, my doctor set up the test, despite her obvious belief that it was unnecessary. Although the test was scheduled for August, I told my dad and friends that it would be in the fall, in case I tested positive and needed time to process the information alone first.
When I woke with a major bout of anxiety on the day of the test, I quickly called my dad, who was my rock and fellow soldier during my mom’s breast cancer battle two decades earlier. He calmed me down with fatherly facts about breast cancer genetics, as well as kindness and support. He expressed that he had a strong feeling, beyond just a hope, that my results would be negative, which is exactly what Jon and I felt.
That afternoon, I paced up and down the waiting room at the breast center for 45 minutes, which felt like 45 days. Finally, I proceeded to an exam room where a nurse recorded my family history. I was given two small cups of mouthwash and swished each for 30 seconds, then spit into a vial to give a DNA sample. I left the breast center with, if not a fresh attitude, then at least a fresh mouth! They said I’d receive a call with the results in two to three weeks. I told Jon and my dad that the results would come in six weeks – for this high-anxiety waiting game, I wanted no pressure.
The good news came less than a week later. I sobbed happily while the nurse told me I should begin yearly mammograms at 34 (I already began at 30, per my cousin’s advice) and continue self-exams and regular OBGYN visits.
Caring for and helping others is one of my greatest pleasures. Serving as a Sharsheret Peer Supporter will allow me to support women who, like me, have scary but valid genetic-based questions regarding their chances of being diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime.