Nearly a million Americans carry an inherited BRCA mutation associated with hereditary breast, ovarian, and related cancers and it is estimated that 2.3 million women in the U.S. are at high risk for breast cancer due to family history. Well, my family is in this lot as I participated in genetic testing and learned that I carry the BRCA 1 mutation passed on from my mother. We are Czech in my mother’s lineage (Hovorka is my mother’s maiden name) and there is some evidence that people from this area are more likely to have BRCA 1 than others.
My mother died of ovarian cancer, diagnosed in her late 50’s, too late to do much but try to give her more years via chemotherapy. She identified closely with Gilda Radner who also died too young from ovarian cancer about the same time as my mother. I loved Gilda like I loved my mother, maybe more as a teenager is tended too. I have a cousin that died of breast cancer in her 40’s. I was diagnosed with breast cancer, very early stages, in my late 40’s and have so far fended the beast off and I am thankfully still around at 55 with no signs of cancer. I took the preventive steps to have my breasts removed and a complete hysterectomy.
Last week, I went to the oncologist (you know you are a cancer patient when you ask, who is your oncologist?) for my six month check up and got the all clear one more time. These check-ups are a part of my routine now for regular screenings, plenty of exercise, and mindfulness that every day is a gift. I have recently explored meditation as an additional method of coping with stress and finding happiness. I can hear my father chuckling about this as he loved to poke fun at people who meditate as part of that “new age fad.” Meditation is something that people from different countries have been doing for centuries.
I am happy even without meditation but there are times we all need techniques to deal with stress. I am a person that enjoys projects and a busy schedule so meditating for me is a challenge. But so important for me to allow my brain to rest for just 20 minutes or so and not think about anything, nothing, but the sound of my own breath. It is quite empowering and a litter bittersweet that I only discovered the techniques at this later age instead of when I could have really used it back when I was a young mother or when I heard that I had cancer.
I also subscribe to massage therapy and a good soak in a hot tub from time to time. Oh, and a glass of red wine is sublime as well. I also surround myself with positive influences including the people I love – both at home, work and play. So, how do you take care of yourself? Some ideas I have heard are:
- Weeding the garden
- Walks in the woods
- A good, long belly laugh
- Dance around
- Lost in a good book
- Take a road trip
My new favorite is mindful meditation. How? Focus on your breath. Notice anything that passes through your awareness without judgment. If your mind starts to tackle your to-do list, just return to focusing on your breath.
And make sure you get regular mammograms and conduct breast self checks. It was a life saver for me