There’s definitely been something about this year.

I don’t know if midlife crises find us, or if we find them through several culminating, transforming experiences.

Either way, I think I’m in one. Though CRISIS is the wrong word. Much too harsh. Maybe it’s a Mid-life Growth Spurt. Maybe I’ve finally become an adult and this is what it feels like. I thought it happened when I had my first child, but maybe that was just the dig that set it all up—the planting that’s been watered and sunned over the last six years.

This year–I’ll use the school year in this sense–started with my daughter transitioning to a Big Girl Bed and leaving her crib behind. The ends of things have always saddened me, I wrote at the time.

Then my son entered kindergarten. There were times I couldn’t wait for my children to enter school. This, in a nutshell, is the cruel joke of parenthood. I am now, and forever will be, in a constant struggle for space and independence, coupled with lonesomeness in the moments I find it.

I’ve never seen the movie To Gillian on Her 37th Birthday, but I thought of that title several times over the last year. Thirty-seven was a big one for me. My year of changes, of feeling older, of seeing the end of the road. That sounds exaggerated, over-wrought. But it’s true. I see that there’s an end to this. I never could before, in that wonderful way of childhood and young adulthood, invincibility and joy. Now, I see that time does indeed fly with great big wings. I know when I am seventy I will look back on today and see softer edges, illuminated by the glow that the past inevitably holds for me. And I will think, “Man, that went fast.”

I turned 38 in February. Unfortunately, whatever black magic 37 possessed did not disappear instantaneously.

It was in that mindset, in April of this year of change, that I found out I’m BRCA positive–I have “the cancer gene,” the BRCA mutation, whatever of the various names for this relatively new diagnosis. I therefore have a much greater chance than the general population of having certain types of cancer, namely breast and ovarian. But also pancreatic, skin, and possibly lung and cervical. And who knows what else; it seems so new and good studies are long and slow, that nothing feels solid. Then again, I’ve been in a bit of denial and I’ve pushed it all off, which is unlike me. But I was diagnosed two weeks before my first book was published and I was determined to keep it at bay until after I could celebrate for awhile.

Well, my book tour is over so now’s the time, I suppose. (Though let’s be honest, there’s no way I’m putting my book too far in the background when it’s less than two months old; it still needs some motherly love.) My sister, also positive (which is actually misleading because in our cases, we don’t even have the gene; it’s missing from our DNA), dove in and learned all she could about the gene and our options. I had a “meeting” with her the other night to get up to speed. I felt slightly numb the entire time we talked, as I have pretty much since I found out.

Once in the car, though, a simple sight broke me: I drove past a father and daughter playing softball in a field. The father pitched to the daughter and she swung the bat  just as I passed and I could have sworn it was me and my father twenty-five years ago. And then time and motion and adulthood and childhood and joy and melancholy converged, and I cried all the way home.

There have been light moments—my sister and I laughed today as we talked about getting double mastectomies together and found ourselves saying things like, “December, maybe? I don’t know, when’s good for you?”

My mother and aunt are also BRCA-positive. Meanwhile, less than 1% of the population are BRCA-positive, according to ABC News. I’ve also heard it’s 2%. Regardless, we really represent in my family. We come to the table. Once your parent is BRCA-positive, you have a 50/50 chance of being positive yourself. So the women in my family flipped a coin four times in a row, and four times in a row we got BRCA-positive. I wish money was involved.

I hope to write about our experiences here; after all, it fits right in with the theme of this blog. But over the next few months, I might not be around a lot, and this is my explanation–to the readers and writers whom I usually visit and comment and correspond with. In this year of changes, there are a few more to come.



22 responses to “Counting Change”

  1. Julie Christine Avatar

    Sending thoughts of peace and strength, Jessica. I am so sorry for this terrifying diagnosis and the shadow this casts over your family’s lives. Damn cancer. Hugs to you.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thanks so much – I appreciate it.

  2. Julia Munroe Martin Avatar

    Sorry for the hard year. I don’t know anyone who’s BRCA positive, but I can understand the feelings that go along with the positive results and the laughter and the tears, too. A few years ago I had melanoma and although “only surgery” was required, it altered profoundly how I think about all kinds of things — so I can well imagine. I’ll be reading along with your changes and sending hugs.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thanks, Julia, and I’m so glad you were able to deal with the melanoma and are healthy now. It’s true–I’ve had people say, “Well, at least you don’t have cancer and you can do something about it.” Which is true, of course. And I am happy to have the ability to be proactive. But it really does alter the way you think, and it’s a little too close to cancer for my comfort.

  3. macjam47 Avatar

    Jessica, I am so sorry to hear you are BRCA positive. That must weigh on your mind constantly, as your diagnosis is still new. Sometimes life is about learning to live with things, hard as it may seem. Your likelihood of developing cancer is at a higher percent, but remember it isn’t 100%. Hang in there and try to keep positive.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thanks so much! It’s all about perspective, isn’t it, and focusing on the positive.

  4. Jennifer King (@JenniferLynKing) Avatar

    This couldn’t have been easy to share, Jess, but thank you for writing about it, and for the pieces to come. You are so strong, such an inspiration. I’m sending all my hugs, love, and support. xoxoxo

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      You are a sweetheart – thanks, Jennifer.

  5. Alison Guenther Avatar
    Alison Guenther

    Hey Jess,   I’ve just read your story and I’m a little in shock.  What a year of ups and downs you have had. I’m not sure what to say but I thought something is needed. I can only imagine all the emotions you are feeling. I want you to know my thoughts and prayers will be with both you and Katie as you begin this difficult journey.    lots of love,   Ali

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thanks so much, Ali – I appreciate knowing you’re there and thinking good thoughts!

  6. Eli Pacheco Avatar

    1. Props to you for the courage to write this. Peace to you for having to live with it.

    2. As the commenter above said, it’s no guarantee. I wish you strength to educate yourself and motivate to act preemptively.

    3. I hope that others who share your diagnosis will find this site for inspiration and to encourage you too.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Wonderful words and wishes, Eli – thank you.

  7. Nina Badzin Avatar

    I think you will help others by writing about it. And we will be here with prayers and support in any way, even if it’s just to lift you up with distractions when necessary. And yes–it’s too early to put that book in the background!

  8. Natalia Sylvester (@NataliaSylv) Avatar

    Jessica, I read this and found I’d been holding my breath the whole time, and then had to release it in that kind of deep, slow breath we take when we learn something that truly affects us and have to recuperate, and all I could do for a moment was to be silent, struggling to find words to tell you how sorry I am you’re going through this, how in awe I am of your strength and courage, and how I’ll be keeping you in my thoughts constantly. Much love…

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Natalia, thank you so much. I truly appreciate your kind words.

  9. Jackie Cangro Avatar

    What difficult news to hear right on the heels of something so wonderful.
    Wishing you boatloads of peace and strength.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thanks so much, Jackie. Definitely feeling lots of support here.

  10. Lisa Chesser Avatar

    I left my blog behind for many months because of difficulties with my son and school. Then I ran into other problems with my grandmother. Now I’m also having to face many medical issues. There’s a time for everything. I’m glad I circled back around again to rediscover your writing.

    1. Jessica Vealitzek Avatar

      Thanks so much, Lisa. That’s lovely to hear – though I’m sorry you’ve had troubles. I’ve missed your writing.

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