Attitude really IS everything

These days when someone approaches me to ask how I’m doing, I always hear, “Your attitude is amazing.”  This is great to hear but it makes me wonder what other people’s attitudes are.  I am an honest person and will admit to fatigue but I’m happy about life and I’m happy to be back at work.  Since my diagnosis, I have taken the approach that I’m going to beat this dreaded disease. I’ve never wavered from this.  I tend to keep negative people and negative energy away from me so perhaps I’m in my own little naive world.  Or perhaps I come from a reality-driven world thanks to the incredibly strong women in my family.  Let’s back up a bit….

All the women on both sides of my family have battled breast cancer (most have had to do it twice) and won.  I have seen this for all of my adult life and I honestly don’t remember a time growing up where one of my grandmother’s didn’t manage to squeeze her breast cancer (pun intended!) into every conversation. She also managed to plan her death from the first time she was diagnosed and often spoke of that as well.   She was a 2-time 26-year breast cancer survivor so she was cancer-free during these conversations and although the conversations were a bit morbid, she taught me that it’s o.k. for women to know what cancer is and her 26-year survival example showed me that it wasn’t a death sentence even though she planned for it on a regular basis.  Although it probably tired most folks out hearing her talk about her breast cancer and subsequent recoveries, what she did for me was empower me.  Her own mother likely passed away from “a woman’s cancer” although it wasn’t talked about way-back-when.  My grandmother changed that by going COMPLETELY the other way but I’m o.k. with that.  The door of communication was open.  WIDE OPEN.

Because of my grandmother’s breast cancer and her daughter’s as well (my aunt), several members of that side of the family have been tested for the BRCA mutation.  Several of them have it and by deduction, my grandmother had it as well although I don’t know that she was ever tested.  We are able to trace it back a few generations due to the extension of the same mutation in the family.   Again, armed with the knowledge that there’s a mutation in the family, I was not afraid to be tested as well.  Because of my grandmother, I knew that for myself it would be better to know as much as possible.   I was never afraid of the results because I knew deep in my gut that I had it, too.

I learned in 2006 that I carry a BRCA1 mutation so ever since then, I’ve been screened every six months for breast cancer (mammograms and breast MRIs).  After my last mammogram this past July, I was chatting with my breast oncology nurse practitioner and she looked me in the eye and said, “I can monitor your breasts.  What concerns me is your ovaries.  Oftentimes, ovarian cancer can start in the fallopian tubes and that just doesn’t show up on ultrasound.”  This was an “ah-ha” moment for me.  I got a referral from my family doctor to see the gynecologic oncologist and I met with her about the possibility of removing the ovaries and tubes as a preventative measure because of the BRCA1 mutation.  One week later I woke up from surgery and she told me that I have ovarian cancer (I had no symptoms).  Had I not known I had the genetics for this and been vigilant about the breast exams for the last several years, I would not have had the nurse telling me that my ovaries concerned her.   I would still not know that I have ovarian cancer and by the time I did find out, my prognosis might not be as good as it is now.  This all leads back to my grandmother’s continuous babble about her own breast cancer. (In the end, it was ovarian cancer that took her life.)  At least she opened that door of communication for me and I’ll always be grateful to her for it.

The other side of the family has breast cancer as well but it’s not likely that there’s a mutation and no one has been tested.  The women are strong souls and all have beaten breast cancer.   With all the cancer in my family, I have never once heard, “Poor me” or “Why me?”  It’s certainly possible that all the women have uttered these words at some point but if they did, it was behind closed doors and it didn’t last long.  All the women in my family are strong women with strong personalities (both a blessing and a curse, I’m sure) who aren’t going to let a cancer diagnosis mess up their plans for long.  Which brings me back to the original topic:  Attitude is everything.

Last week, I was texting with my BFSB (Best Friend Since Birth) and I mentioned to her about people continually mentioning my positive attitude.  She wrote back that some people are probably still curled up and having pity parties while I’m not doing that.  This was an eye-opener for me.  I wrote back, “The women in my family don’t have pity parties.  They have the suck-it-up-and-deal-with-it parties.”  Honestly, that is such a true statement.  This is what I have always seen and I know no other way to handle a cancer diagnosis.  I will always be grateful to all the women in my family for showing me grace and strength while dealing with whatever life throws at them.

I will stay positive because I’m not ready to die.  While it’s true that I have all my legal stuff in order, I do not dwell on it.  I take comfort in knowing that my wishes are on paper and that frees up my energy to fight this disease.  Remaining positive also gives me energy to fight.  If I don’t stay positive, I might as well give up.  In my family, that is just not an option.  If I have anything to say about it, it never will be an option.

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