“Ginger, there is a 50% chance you carry the BRCA gene mutation.”
In the tiny meeting room of the Maritime Human Genetics Centre, listening to the genetics counselor, I feel myself at a crossroad on my life's journey.
“If your blood work comes back positive for the BRCA mutation, you have an 85% chance of developing breast cancer and a 65% chance of developing ovarian cancer in your lifetime,” she continues.
My mind flashes to my aunt who battled breast cancer in her forties and later passed. I think of my grandmother who suffered with ovarian cancer and also passed from the disease.
The counselor pauses. She knows my family’s medical history. In fact, she’s holding it all in her hand: a list of cousins, distant and near, my aunt, my grandmother.
I realize I haven't said much, so I nod and sound out something like, "Ah-huh."
The counselor continues. “If you test positive for the gene, there are a number of options available to you. You are at the age where test results and choices can most benefit you. A mastectomy greatly decreases your risk of breast cancer. A gynecologic surgery decreases your risk of both ovarian and breast cancer. You could opt, however, for frequent breast imaging which can do a good job of detecting anything early. There are no effective tests, currently, for ovarian cancer.”
We finish talking and I take my blood work paper to the clinic to have the testing done.
50% chance, huh?
I decide to find out what side of the cancer coin I’ve landed on.
Dot #1: Sara "Snood" Cutting
Out of the 300 plus Travelling Kindness Rocks sent out so far, a handful have gone to breast cancer warriors, including Sara “Snood” Cutting of the United Kingdom. Wanting to turn chemo’s impact of hair loss into something positive, Sara created the Different Daily Headgear Challenge to raise money for Macmillan Cancer Care. Each day, Sara poises an item or collection of items on her bald head and invites her social media followers to donate to Macmillan. She has surpassed her goal of raising £17,000 but is continuing her efforts.
A Travelling Kindness Rock found it’s way to Sara... and is one of the growing eclectic mix of items that have found a temporary home on her head.
I always hope that the Universe will help Travelling Kindness Rocks find their way to individuals at just the right moment. I believe Sara’s arrived at a time when she, in deed, needed cheer.
Travelling all the way from Nova Scotia to the UK took weeks for this little TKR. I remember distinctly mailing it from my parents' home in Wood's Harbour the middle of January. I was home for a family member's funeral.
Sara's Travelling Kindness Rock completed its journey in late February, about a week before she was to participate in the Brighton Half Marathon, an event she diligently trained for and intended to run as another means of raising money for Macmillan. The TKR also was delivered to Sara while she was in hospital... and around the time her medical team decided she could not run the race.
February 29, the date of the half marathon, Sara was out of hospital.
She was also at the starting line of the race.
And the finish line.
And every step in between.
Although she couldn’t run, she was able to walk the distance and finished with Macmillan’s name on her chest.
“My BRCA results are in,” I tell my friend, Shelley. “I have to go tomorrow and get them. They won’t give results out over the phone.”
“Is someone going with you?” Shelley asks.
“I can just go by myself. It’s not that big of a deal, but Steve says he’ll be going with me. When I was home for the funeral, Mom said she wants to go too, but I haven’t told her my results are ready.”
“That’s good Steve is going because you’ll want someone with you when you get news like this.”
I look at my friend. These results seem to be a big deal to everyone in my life. Everyone but me. “Right now, in this very moment, I either have the gene or I don’t. The only difference is tomorrow I’ll know which it is,” I say with a dead-pan expression.
Shelley looks at me. “I’m glad Steve is going with you.”
Dot#2: Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia & Janet
A Travelling Kindness Rock now has a permanent home in the office of Breast Cancer Action Nova Scotia (BCANS). I hope it becomes a symbol of encouragement and kindness for all the breast cancer warriors who are supported by BCANS. It's image has been transferred onto clothing currently for sale to raise funds for the diverse programs BCANS offers.
One such program is the Pink Panther group. Janet is one of the group's participants, and she has found that the meetings have helped her open up about her experiences with breast cancer and make new friends who share similar journeys. This two and a half year survivor is still in treatment, and to her the BCANS’ Travelling Kindness Rock represents people around the world caring for each other.
“We meet again,” the genetics counselor says as she settles down in a chair in different little room in the Maritime Human Genetics Centre.
“This is my husband, Steve,” I say.
I glance over at him. Taking the day off from work to come here with me, rubbing his knees as he sits: Yeah, he’s worried.
“Well, today I have good news for you both,” the counselor says. “Ginger, you do not carry the BRCA gene mutation.”
For the months I’ve worked towards this moment, filling out my family history, having the blood work completed, and all the waiting, at no point of time was I emotional. It simply, I rationalized, was a matter of finding out information about myself.
That's the direction I allowed my thoughts to take.
But now my body begins to shake and tears come to my eyes.
I start to breath as if the wind has been knocked out of me.
I take my husband’s hand and I squeeze it tightly. I’m glad he is here with me and I realize, finally, how I would have felt if I'd tested positive.
Connecting the Dots
Oh, but for a flip of the genetic coin my experience would be Sara's or Janet's. Some day it just might - the genetic counselor assured me that my negative test results doesn't equate to super human powers: the probability of developing breast cancer for me is the same as the majority of the population, the non-BRCA folks.
My hope is that you, the reader, and the followers of the Travelling Kindness Rocks are inspired to give while you can. Intentionally seek that someone who needs you right now.
Do a kind act.
Trust me, you will receive in return.
My second hope is that those who need to receive right now, your journey is leading you on a path called "breast cancer" or something else equally as difficult, that you will receive with ease. Let the givers give to you and openly accept the kindness and love.
That is why we are all here, isn't it?
To Give + To Receive = Kindness