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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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How Tapping Into Creativity Boosts Happiness

This post was created in partnership with Jean Mellano, author of Slipped Away.

Jean Mellano wrote Slipped Away after the love of her life, Steve Tarpinian, took his own life. Together for 33 years, Jean’s memoir reads less like a book about suicide and more like a private love letter.

The most remarkable part of the book, at least to me, is that she includes remembrances from other people who also adored Steve — his colleagues, students, and members of his beloved triathlon community. And then she published it. Without an agent. Without a book deal. A self-published endeavor that keeps Steve’s memory alive.

Harnessing creativity (of all kinds, not just with writing) is an uplifting and empowering path to finding resilience after loss. I explore 85 inspiring opportunities for remembering and celebrating loved ones in Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive. Self-publishing is just one outstanding idea. So is making a film. Read on for more strategies. Perhaps you’ll be inspired to pursue your own passion project in celebration of your loved one.

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My Next Move: Surging Forward By Looking Back

After I graduated college, and for the next twenty years, I worked as a television news producer in New York. Never would I have imagined a career transition into writing full-time, yet the early deaths of my parents (my mother died when she was 56, my father passed away when he was 63) pushed me into unanticipated terrain.

My sorrow drove me to write. And giving myself time to investigate subjects that were increasingly important to me (cancer prevention and preventative surgery because both my parents died of cancer) made me happier. It also propelled me into writing books about grief and the unobvious ways embracing the past helps individuals and families thrive.

Grief experts have long argued that sustaining connections to loved ones is essential for moving forward. This concrete roadmap for healing is what gave me the idea for Passed and Present: Keeping Memories of Loved Ones Alive, and it’s why I’m relishing my decision to become Executive Family & Memories Editor for a company I really adore. It’s called Legacy Republic.

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Why Writing About Grief Is An Uplifting Experience

You might assume I’d be the last person you’d want to meet at a cocktail party. And, really, who’d blame you? I’ve written four books about grief and loss, and yet I’ve been told, quite lovingly, I’m really fun to be around. My husband has often said that if he had to sum me up in one word he’d choose, “passionate.” I really like that description. You might even call me bubbly.

Each book I’ve written is the result of successfully pushing through an unwanted experience and using that moment for something more powerful than anger and self-pity. …Continue Reading

On Your Wedding Day: Five Ways to Honor Loved Ones Who’ve Passed Away

My mother was losing her battle with ovarian cancer when Mark asked me to marry him. Because she likely wouldn’t make it to our wedding, my thoughtful husband-to-be went out of his way to include her in every secret and elaborate strategy he had for his proposal. Mark made sure my mom knew exactly where it was going to happen and when, and he lovingly elevated her role in the planning to full-on co-conspirator by involving her in the ruse to get me exactly where I needed to be that day. Mark and I celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary this year and I remain just as grateful today as I did back then for what he did for me, but especially my mom, two decades ago.

Mom didn’t live to see us get married but she was very much part of the wedding. Most couples also want their loved ones to be part of the ceremony and celebration. Below I share five opportunities for including those you’ve lost in your special day.

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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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