Today was sort of a whirlwind in my breast cancer world. A faculty member in my department, someone I actually know and have a friendly relationship with, has been diagnosed with breast cancer. She is having a mastectomy on Tuesday. There are 51 full-time faculty members in my department. Now two of them have been diagnosed with breast cancer in the span of three months. Not to make light of the situation, but I feel like it’s contagious.
But then again, so is karma. While I was out, two faculty members took over my three courses with only four days notice. So, I have offered to take over my colleague’s course and will be teaching it for the rest of the semester – only four more weeks. Many people went out of their way for me while I was out and without really even knowing me – I have only been teaching at this school since August. The least I can do is pay back the favor. It’s good karma.
Today I also read that Joanna Rudnick has been diagnosed with breast cancer and is scheduled for a mastectomy sometime in the near future. I don’t know Joanna personally. Many people in the BRCA community have probably seen her documentary, In the Family, which has helped to bring a lot of people to FORCE. If you haven’t seen it, you really should (and right now it’s screening free on the PBS website in order to raise awareness for the upcoming Supreme Court debate about gene patenting). When Joanna was beginning her documentary several years ago and looking for BRCA stories, she and I exchanged a few emails; I went back into my gmail and realized that I had saved them. At the time, we were both single. I was a grad student and didn’t have good enough insurance to have prophylactic surgery – not to mention, I wasn’t even ready to do it and back in 2006, it was completely taboo – I didn’t even tell my doctor about it because I was told my insurance could actually drop me because of my genetic status. Anyway, somehow the conversation petered out and we never did meet to talk about her project.
I obviously read a lot of BRCA blogs, so I know a lot of BRCA stories. But I was sort of surprised when I read just this brief bit of Joanna’s story:
She was breastfeeding her second daughter when she found her breast cancer, less than a week after a move to the Bay Area with appointments pending for prophylactic surgeries.
I couldn’t help but read into this a bit: like me, Joanna put off prophylactic surgery because she wanted to get married and have a child, or at least explore those possibilities before amputating her breasts. And, like me, once she was ready to go for the surgeries, it was too late – the cancer got to her first. Because the story says she is currently in treatment, I’m assuming her cancer was more advanced than mine.
I emailed Joanna. I’m sure she thinks I’m some nut job and she probably receives hundreds of emails a day from anyone and everyone with a BRCA gene, but I just had to because of how similar our stories seemed. I suppose I was a bit worried (and I acknowledge that this is very very presumptuous) that like me, Joanna might be really angry with herself for waiting too long. Of course, like me, she might also feel that it was worth it in order to get the husband and children she clearly wanted and to have the opportunity to breastfeed those children.
I don’t expect to hear back from Joanna – she’s basically a celebrity of sorts! And maybe it was wrong of me to email her, especially as she’s undergoing cancer treatment. But again, it did feel like some kind of karma that I had saved those emails, and maybe now she knows there are people out there whose stories are even closer to hers than she probably thought.