Overwhelmed with Gratitude

I sometimes still can’t believe how fortunate I was to be given the choice. Finding out I had the BRCA2 gene mutation 5 years ago saved my life from the moment the surgeons removed my ovaries and fallopian tubes and 4 months later, my breasts. In the 17 years that I did surveillance prior to getting tested, I did not have breast or ovarian cancer. I was so freaken lucky.

If you’ve read my previous posts, you’d know that my dad, sister and brother all carry the mutation. And that my sister had breast cancer in each of her breasts, 15 years apart, and is a survivor. My brother and I also both had melanoma, which is on the BRCA2 mutation, though we cannot be sure that was the cause or from childhood sunburns (please, please protect yourself every day, sunny or not, and do regular checkups to detect any changes in freckles or moles).

We lost our mom to multiple-myeloma, not related to the gene mutation her husband and children carry. And our dad has survived two types of lymphoma cancers and prostate cancer. —Living in a cancer family has its burden. But it also brings you closer to your mortality and with a respect for life that changes you forever.

I shed some tears today. Which is very unusual for me. I’m not a cryer. But I was overwhelmed that others aren’t so lucky and feeling so grateful for my own quality of life. I just watched this beautiful film recommended by Kelli Lamb that was made in 2015 by Michelle Grinsel who sadly lost her battle to cancer last year. In 2007 she was tested for the BRCA gene due to a strong family history of breast cancer, including her mom. In this powerful 30 minute video you will get a glimpse into how she turned the bad news of a cancer diagnosis and uncertainty of her survival into the ability to cherish each moment. In her blog, she writes about the decision to get tested [and not having had prophylactic surgeries], “my decision to get tested saved my life because I would have been off the radar without getting these tests till my 40s. Still, I was blindsided beyond belief…and I still am.”

Again, I was overwhelmed by my own gratitude that I didn’t wait once I had confirmation that I carried the BRCA2 gene. I was at risk of what Michelle’s doctor said to her, “Your genes are doing exactly what they were meant to do.”

We’re also reminded of the fragility of life beyond cancer. Michelle said, “You can replace the word cancer with a million other difficult experiences, and within that instant, we can all relate.”

I was really moved this morning about what Michelle says near the end of the film about her dad looking at the night sky and saying thanks. And really saying thanks until he felt it deeply, no matter how long it took. To not just say thanks on a whim. To really embody the gratitude even when life throws you hard choices and shitty circumstances. —It reminded me that more recently, I really haven’t been that thankful in my daily life.

Every morning I look out our guest bedroom window and notice the trees, the flowers, the vegetation, the hills and mountains in the distance. But starting today, I’m going to say thanks and I’m going to stand there until I really feel it.