My mother played piano and tennis, and she made a mean Caesar salad. Her laugh bubbled up like a fountain. Then she got sick.
When I was in ninth grade, my mom went into surgery for a hernia and came out with a diagnosis of ovarian cancer. She died when I was 19. Sadly, my mom’s older sister had already lost her life to breast cancer.
My ancestry is Ashkenazi Jewish, and I long suspected there might be a genetic connection with cancer. As an adult, I didn’t want to do genetic testing unless I would act. My ob-gyn suggested that when I was done having kids, I have a hysterectomy. I did, and my husband and I met with a genetic counselor. Sure enough, I tested positive for the BRCA-1 mutation.
I waited until my younger son was a toddler and then had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. This was an easy decision; the scheduling pivoted around life with little kids. By the time my surgery arrived, a pre-operative MRI pinpointed abnormal cells.
This year, I reached a milestone: I turned 48, the age my mom was when she died. She missed my college graduation, my wedding, and the births and bar mitzvahs of my boys. Bonnie would have been a joyful grandmother.
Genetic testing and preventative surgeries saved my life. The path was never easy, but I never looked back. Anyone of Ashkenazi ancestry can learn their degree of risk and strive to preserve the possibility of a long and loving life.