I care a lot about breast cancer research. My mom died of breast cancer a little over a year ago, her sister had breast cancer, her mom had breast cancer, and her grandmother had breast cancer. That’s a lot of women in my family with boobs that are trying to kill them. And it means, among other things, that one day my boobs will probably try to kill me.
Ashkenazi Jewish women are significantly more likely to have the BRCA1 or BRCA2, and a woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. A woman without the BRCA genes has a 12% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer. A woman with one of the BRCA genes has a 60% chance. Sixty percent! And if you have the BRCA gene and you got it from your mom, and she was diagnosed with cancer when she was 50, you’re likely to be diagnosed six years earlier, when you’re 44.
My mom was diagnosed with cancer when she was 54. If I get it six years earlier, that makes me 48 when I find out I have breast cancer. My mom died almost exactly a year after she was diagnosed. That would make me 49 when I die, which would mean that I’m now, at 25, past the midpoint of my life.
Obviously the likelihood that I’ll be diagnosed at the same time and with the same prognosis as my mother is pretty low, but my point is that breast cancer is a real risk for all women, and especially for Ashkenazi Jewish women. October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, so it’s a great time to educate yourself about breast cancer risks, genetic testing, and breast cancer treatments today. At MJL we put together some good resources for learning about breast cancer and Jewish people (news flash: men can have the BRCA genes and get breast cancer, too).
A lot of people spend the month of October painting everything pink and pinning pink ribbons to every product and campaign they can find. I find this upsetting. Breast cancer killed my mother. I donâ€™t want to have to be thinking about that when I’m grocery shopping and trying to decide which pair of sneakers to buy. The marketing of the month makes me pretty upset. But if it helps you connect, then do it. Certainly, breast cancer research is a worthy cause.
But here’s what I really think you should do during the month of October: If your mom is alive, call her or send her a letter (a real letter, or an email) and tell her all the stuff you think but don’t normally say. Mushy stuff. Literally every day since my mother has died I’ve thought of things I wanted to tell her that I never did.