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The BRCA Gene and Losing American Writer Elizabeth Wurtzel

Photo by Neville Elder

Elizabeth Wurtzel was a fearless writer, willing to share stark details of her own clinical depression, drug use, and sex life at an age when most of us are still crafting the narrative of who we are. Even her book titles – Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America and Bitch: In Praise of Difficult Women – were forthright and unflinching. Perhaps this is why I am struggling with Wurtzel’s death at the age of 52, from a cause that she could have taken steps to prevent.

Wurtzel and I shared many characteristics: We were Jewish New Yorkers of similar age, both of us writers, and most importantly we each had inherited a genetic mutation called BRCA. According to the CDC, half of women with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation will get breast cancer and a third will get ovarian cancer by the time they reach 70. Compare that to women without the mutation: seven out of 100 will get breast cancer and one out of 100 will get ovarian cancer.

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artist emily mcdowell reveals the deeply personal reasons she launched her empathy cards collection, what spurred her relationship with Sheryl Sandberg’s OptionB team, and the one memento that reminds her most of a very dear friend

Pinch me! I am super excited to share my latest Q&A with you – a conversation with the incomparable Emily McDowell. Don’t know her name? I can nearly guarantee you know her artwork – fun, whimsical, and often sassy and irreverent. Slate named her Empathy Cards, a line of greeting cards crafted to help family and friends connect around illness and loss, one of the top designs making the world a better place. And no, I’m not getting paid to say any of this!

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Author and Poet Meghan O’Rourke on Living Life in Honor of Her Mother

Award-winning author, editor, literary critic, and poet Meghan O’Rourke‘s work has appeared in Slate, The New Yorker, The New York Times Magazine, The New York Times Book Review, and many other publicationsWhile pursuing her extraordinary career, O’Rourke was faced with traveling back and forth from home to care for her mother, who died at age 55 of metastatic colorectal cancer. My mother also died young (57), and also from cancer (ovarian). And similar to Meghan, I was a journalist (working as a television news producer) while helping to care for my mom in her final days.

After Meghan’s mother passed away, she found solace writing her poetry collections, Once and Sun in Days (to be published in paperback this fall), and her gripping memoir, The Long Goodbye. She is currently working on a nonfiction book about chronic illness.

In our interview, Meghan discusses the many ways she keeps her mother’s memory alive, including safeguarding a lock of her hair. I’m thrilled Meghan joined me for this revealing Q & A.

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Preventing Cancer – What I Did to Stay Alive

I woke up this morning without breasts. Not a surprise. This is how it’s been since I underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy six years ago on August 7, 2012 – to prevent getting breast cancer. I still think, as I imagine Angelina Jolie believes of her life-affirming surgery, it’s the best decision I ever could have made.

For more than a decade, my gynecologist warned me I was high-risk for developing cancer. My mother had died of ovarian cancer and I tested positive for BRCA1, the genetic mutation that bumps lifetime risk of breast cancer from 12% (the general population) up to 85%. Couple all of this with the knowledge my grandmother died of breast cancer, and surgery actually felt like an opportunity, not a sentence. Doctors promised the 11.5-hour procedure (the plastic surgeon created breast “mounds” out of my own belly fat so I could avoid getting implants) would free me from many more years of medical surveillance – a battery of non-stop breast exams, mammograms, and MRIs. And it did. Even better, when the anesthesia wore off, the relentless fear of being diagnosed with breast cancer was gone. I was free. …Continue Reading

Joyce Maynard on Losing Her Husband and How Grief Has Made Her More Resilient

New York Times bestselling author Joyce Maynard lost her husband in 2016. Their love affair was rapturous. Yet shortly after their one-year wedding anniversary, Jim was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He died 19 months later.

Joyce captures this emotional upheaval in her latest book, The Best of Us, a work she dove into the night Jim died. In our interview, Joyce reveals how she celebrates and honors Jim’s memory and how grief has made her more resilient. I’m honored Joyce took the time to speak with me while on her nationwide book tour.

For more on The Best of Us (and wonderful photos of Joyce and Jim), watch this video.

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O, The Oprah Magazine: Why Looking at a Photo Can Ease Loneliness and Grief

o-mag-november-coverIn the photograph, my mother and I are sitting on the stone lip of a large circular fountain in Paris. Shoulder to shoulder, we’re leaning into each other, fingers interlaced, my head tilted toward her cheek. It’s Saturday, August 31, 1985, and I’m 15 years old. We are in the Tuileries Garden, giddy tourists on a mother-daughter adventure that began just that morning when we landed in France from New York.

Studying the photo now, I see not just that moment, but so many other joyous times I shared with my mother: horseback riding in Central Park, the raucous annual holiday parties she hosted.    Continue Reading or View on Oprah.com

20 Years #rememberinglynn

It was twenty years ago this week that my mother died of ovarian cancer. I’ve lived an incredible life since she died: I’ve gotten married, given birth to two amazing children, enjoyed an exciting career in TV news, published three books, and I’m about to publish my fourth. Despite not being here, she’s never left me.  

I’ve never stopped #rememberinglynn, yet I did something different this year to mark the anniversary. I used Facebook to invite family and friends to share their memories with me and with each other.  

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CNN.com OPINION: What I share with Angelina Jolie

In 2007 I had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to prevent my getting ovarian cancer.

It was a surgery of the kind that Angelina Jolie recently underwent, as she revealed Tuesday in a New York Times op-ed. Two years ago, Jolie divulged that she’d had a prophylactic double mastectomy — I had done this as well, in 2012.

Along with the effects of the surgeries themselves, we now also share a related fallout: surgical menopause. Continue Reading

CNN.com: Foods every breast cancer survivor should know about

Women checking in for appointments at the Comprehensive Breast Center at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital Center in New York this month are being offered more than a pre-op or post-op surgical visit.

On the reception desk, inside a large plastic frame, is a colorful flyer decorated with pictures of luscious-looking fruits and vegetables. It’s an invitation to attend “Superfoods and Super Habits for Super Health,” a seminar that promises to teach patients the foods they should eat to boost their immunity and — not in so many words — reduce their chances of dying of breast cancer….Continue Reading

New York Times: Can the Human Blueprint Have Owners? BRCA Test, Vital for Me, Shouldn’t Be Limited

Myriad began offering BRCA1 and BRCA2 testing in 1996, the same year my mother died of ovarian cancer. Since then, Myriad reports to have screened more than one million patients. That includes Angelina Jolie, and me.

Jolie and I have a lot in common: Her mother died of ovarian cancer when she was 56; my mother died of ovarian cancer when she was 57. Angelina tested positive for BRCA1; so did I….Continue Reading