Like many three-year-olds, when the fields of early spring are blanketed in golden yellow, Theo squeals in delight. He sees dandelions as “flowers,” and often picks Mommy a bouquet.
As grown-ups, most of us think of dandelions as weeds — undesirable. We spend time, money and energy attempting to irradicate them from our lawns.
But are dandelions a weed, or are they a flower? It depends, of course, on your perspective.
The same can be said of the ovaries of a woman who carries the BRCA 1 mutation. Her positive status not only predicts an 88 percent lifetime chance of getting breast cancer, but a 44 percent lifetime chance of an ovarian cancer diagnosis.
If she views her ovaries as what God intended them to be — the first stop in a chain reaction of events that brings about the conception of a miracle, a newborn baby — then they are flowers. If she sees them as the malevolent precursor to ovarian cancer — a cancer that is not only difficult to diagnose in its early stages, but difficult to treat — then she will view them as weeds.
Either way, it’s a clear view, all the way to the horizon. But what happens when to that young woman, that BRCA 1 carrier, the dandelions are both flowers and weeds?
That’s the predicament I find myself in. As I believe John Lennon once said, life is what happens while we’re busy making other plans. And so it was for my husband, Don, and I. Our “plan” was to have two children, about two years apart.
Part A of that plan went beautifully — Theo was born in August 2005. But Part B was put on hold when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in February 2006.
There were lots of “ifs” at that point in my life — but I am a strong believer that looking forward and making plans is the best perspective you can have when you’re in the midst of dire circumstances.
So, we looked toward the future and saw ourselves with two children. I went through in-vitro in the weeks between my double-mastectomy surgery and the first round of chemotherapy so that we could freeze embryos in case the chemo sent me into premature menopause.
I’m now a survivor — three years, three months, two weeks and one day — and you can bet I’m counting! And Don and I have decided to go for #2. If we are blessed with a second baby, fabulous. If we are not, we will move on in life, grateful for the beautiful, healthy little boy that we do have.
In the meantime, in the back of my mind, I am always aware that, as long as I have my ovaries, I am playing a game of Russian Roulette. The odds of ovarian cancer in a BRCA 1 positive woman increase dramatically as a woman moves into her mid-40s and beyond.
Though I am not there yet, I know that my risk is about 1 percent. That’s pretty low, but any risk is still a risk. A risk of cancer, a risk of leaving my beautiful little boy and loving husband behind. And that’s just plain scary.
Yet, as we’re too often reminded, everything in life carries with it some sort of risk. We get into a car and drive to the store, and we take a risk. So, we will play the odds for now, try for #2, see what happens. And, if it doesn’t happen in the next several months to a year or so, we’ll move on.
Moving on for me means going under the knife and having my ovaries removed. That’s the best way for a BRCA 1 carrier to eradicate her risk of gene-related ovarian cancer.
It means changing my perspective, of no longer viewing my ovaries as flowers, but instead, as weeds. And, like many of the decisions I must make as a BRCA 1 positive woman, it won’t be easy. But, I will summon the courage, do what needs to be done, and move on — thankful that I’m able to participate in this beautiful dance called Life.