The Positive Power of Breast Cancer
Two years ago, I wrote about my wish to hear Michael Oren speak at the Toronto Biennial–and to have him inscribe a copy of his most recent book, Power, Faith, and Fantasy: America in the Middle East: 1776 to the Present. Although my father did plow his way through the book, it remains, for a variety of reasons, both unread and un-inscribed on my living room bookshelf.
With all due respect to Ambassador Oren, that won’t happen when Nancy Brinker, Susan G. Komen’s sister and founder of Komen for the Cure, joins us at this year’s Biennial as a recipient of the Union’s Eisendrath Bearer of Light Award.
She’ll be honored for keeping her promise to Suzy to “do everythingpossible to end the shame, pain, fear and hopelessness caused by [breastcancer].” She’s told her story in Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer.Although I don’t yet own the book, I have every intention of purchasingit, having it inscribed, and cracking it open for a good read once Iget home from the Gaylord.
Although I know with an extremely high degree of certainty that I will not be among the approximately 230,480 women that National Cancer Institute studies predict will be diagnosed with breast cancer in 2011 (or, in fact, in any subsequent year), it’s not because I’m cocky, smug or arrogant. Rather, it’s because breast cancer has already irrevocably changed my life–even though I’ve never had it.
In 2010, I lost my mom to a particularly virulent and aggressive form of the disease in seven weeks time. She went into the hospital on erev Pesach–the table was already set for the seder–and entered hospice on Shavuot. Following her death, I was tested and found to carry a deleterious BRCA (BReast CAncer) gene mutation that increases my lifetime risk of breast cancer by as much as 87 percent (It’s 12 percent in the general population.) and my lifetime risk of ovarian cancer by as much as 27 percent. (It’s one to two percent in the general population.) Among Ashkenazi Jews, approximately one in 40 individuals (both men and women) is a carrier of a BRCA mutation (the majority of whom don’t know it) while in the general population, approximately one in 500 to 800 people carries a mutation. (Too much inbreeding in the shtetl, if you ask me.)
Determined to beat the odds in a way that wasn’t available to my mom (from whom my family and I surmise I received the mutated gene), I researched my options, agonized over the pros and cons of each, joined support groups, searched my soul, and ultimately decided on a prophylactic hysterectomy last December and a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy this past July (but not before a scare in April convinced me that I didn’t want to live the rest of my life from one MRI or mammogram to the next).
My decisions–hardly made lightly–ensure that I’ve done everything within my power to reduce my own personal risk of breast and ovarian cancer. With that in mind, I’m anxious to see and hear the woman who, through a single promise to her sister, has done everything–and then some–within her power to build an extraordinary organization devoted solely to providing educational, advocacy and financial resources to ensure and improve the health and well being of women and families affected by breast cancer.
I’ll be there at the URJ Biennial to pay tribute to Nancy Brinker. Won’t you join me?