Last night, I went to a support group for women who have tested positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2. If you didn’t know the reason we were coming together, you would have thought we were gathering for a book club or PTA meeting. We look just like you, except there’s this one little problem with our DNA: a mutation that makes it more likely that we’ll develop breast and ovarian cancer.
The meeting takes place once a month at the Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York City and is part of the hospital’s Breast Health Resource Program. It is the only program of its kind within the tri-state area of New York, New Jersey, and Connecticut. About 15 women are in our group, but last night, only five of us were able to attend. Sometimes we temporarily lose members because they’re recuperating from what most of us are still planning — prophylactic cancer surgeries.
We always start the meeting the same way. We go around the room and briefly let each other know what we’re thinking about, how we’re feeling. It’s like taking our emotional temperature. Often, the updates are chilling.
A young mom announced last night that she is pregnant. This was not her first child – and for her another baby is simply not good news. It would mean a more difficult time getting her mammograms and breast MRIs, if she would be allowed to have them at all. And not being able to schedule a medical test is, for our group, the stuff panic is made of. Early detection can quite literally save our lives. Her fears were met head-on. The tough, no-nonsense social worker who leads our group was reassuring and our friend left our meeting planning an immediate trip to her obstetrician. She’ll discuss other cancer surveillance options that might be available to her for the next 9 months.
As for me, I felt good last night. Since taking my journey public just a few days ago, my outlook has shifted. I used to be confused by my choices. I used to feel anxious. Outside of this intimate communal setting at Mount Sinai, I had felt alone with these very heavy decisions. But now, because I’ve reached out, I feel built-up and supported. I am now connected with friends, relatives – and now even strangers – in a way I never could have imagined. And it feels right.
Isn’t that what this whole Internet thing is about anyway?