My Mother's Legacy

Today would have been my mother's 58th birthday, so it means we've commemorated 10 of her birthdays without her here. I can distinctly remember the surprise she gave me at my wedding... one of the last gifts she ever game me. She covertly planned a song performed at the wedding for me from her. I hate country music, but she picked a Martina McBride song that makes me bawl to this day.  I wept as I listened to the lyrics of "In My Daughter's Eyes" on my wedding day, but the tears are probably greater today After losing her only a few months later, that moment has become more and more special as time goes on.  I've missed her on every one of those birthdays, and on the other 364 days of the year as well.

I've been thinking about my mother a lot lately. Of course, I think about her all of the time, but she has been constantly on my mind the last few weeks. I've thought about how much I look like her, sound like her and think like her. How her influence led me to education even though I never imagined my path would lead here. I was thinking of how proud she would be of her daughters and granddaughters. I have been thinking about how I stress too much just like she did and how I have her laugh. I've even picked up the habit of drinking tea in the morning. I was thinking about all the ways I am like her.

You see, for the last month or so, I've been sitting on something pretty big and potentially life altering. At my routine "annual" with Dr. S, we started talking about cancer risks. He remembered I had a mom who was diagnosed with cancer at a pretty young age. However, we haven't been focused on that over the last two years. I've had my eye on the prize- a baby. But, as we started talking about just how young she was, and about how increasingly not young I am becoming, we started talking about breast cancer risks, BRAC mutations, and my ovaries.

You see, contrary to what Angelina Joilie would have you believe, the best prophylactic measure one can take against genetic breast cancer is not a double mastectomy. It's actually the removal of both ovaries (called an oophorectomy), since breast and ovarian cancer are both estrogen driven cancers.

My mother did not have the BRAC tests before she died. In fact, when she passed, these tests were not nearly as routine as they are today. So, after a few minutes of conversation, I was set for a blood draw after a "counseling" appointment with a wonderful lady at Dr. S's office. She set my follow up appointment for receiving my results on Friday, June 13. Yep. Friday the 13th. Just get the ladder out so I can walk under it while holding a mirror on which a black cat will jump and break it.

The test was simple: two little vials of blood, just like any other blood test I have endured in the process. But, this was different. I had a month to wait to see if I had cancer genes lurking somewhere deep within me.

I told a few people in my life what I was waiting on and the advice was generally the same. Quit thinking the worst. However, I couldn't help but let my mind meander down that path. The literature on the BRAC testing said women in the general population have about a 12% risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime and a less than 2% chance of developing ovarian cancer in their lifetime. However, women with this mutation have between a 50 and 60% chance of developing breast cancer and a 20% chance of developing ovarian cancer. Cue the Hunger Games "May the odds be ever in your favor..."

So, as per my usual type A personality, I prepared for the worst. Dr. S told me my ovaries would need to be removed around age 35 if they found the mutation, so I started thinking about an expedited timeline for IVF or potentially moving toward adoption without ever pursuing more aggressive fertility treatments. Intellectually, I knew less than 2% of the population has either mutation, but I also know that 7 out of 8 women is able to conceive a child in roughly a year. When have the odds ever been in my favor?

But, late last week I got the best news ever. OBGYN of the Year (not really his title... but I think he should be nominated) Dr. S got my results and notified me immediately that I was negative for both BRAC mutations. He said we might have a little closer follow up because of mom's history, but overall, it was good.

So, I have now planned an appointment with a new REI at a private practice instead of planning how to deal with losing all hopes of having a baby. We have more time to save for IVF, more time to conquer the weight loss goals I have set, and more time and hope since cancer isn't starting me in the face.

I often wonder what my mom would say if she were here today. I know she would tell me she loves me and will stand beside me no matter what happens. But, I think she would be proud of the woman I have become, regardless of whether or not I ever become a mother. I don't think continuing my mother's legacy depends on having children with her genes. Her legacy is one of love, laughter, grace under pressure and hope in the face of adversity. That's a tall order to live up to, but I hope I have many years to continue to try to be a tenth of the woman she was.


  1. What a beautiful tribute, thank you for sharing! Justine


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