When Cancer Consumes My Mind

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Finding out that some family members have the BRCA gene makes me worried for them regarding the prospect of cancer.

Illustration of a woman with red curly hair.

I have been dealing with chronic lymphocytic leukemia for almost 15 years. It hasn’t been easy, but I have managed with my supportive family and friends who were and still are there for me. There have been infusion treatments, radiation, intravenous immunoglobulin (IVIG) and now a miracle pill. I take Calquence (acalabrutinib) twice a day which is a BTK inhibitor. This stands for Bruton tyrosine kinase, which disrupts the B-cells and prevents them from dividing so they will die instead. Pretty miraculous, right?

Though, I hate that I have had to become so medical. Knowledge is power. We need to understand our cancer. I know I am lucky to be living at this time so that I can benefit from all the wonderful research that has been developing. I am extremely grateful for all the treatments and I am not complaining.

Would you indulge me, though, because I do have something to complain about and it has nothing to do with me. Unfortunately, my family has been worrying about me for a long time. Thanks to genetic testing, I found out that some of my family members have the BRCA gene. Now, I am worrying about them way more. BRCA is more serious than my chronic small lymphocytic cancer which I deal with daily.

The BRCA statistics are very scary. I look at it like a double-edged sword. As I said and believe, knowledge is power, and finding out early in life can allow one to be proactive about it, which is extremely important. Also, hopefully, with more and more research on the horizon, there will be more sophisticated tests available to diagnose cancer at the earliest stages. There is even a nano-vaccine researchers are developing for treating primary tumors and metastases for melanoma. There is hope. Finding cancer sooner than later is always better.

So, on the one hand, it is definitely helpful to find out early if you have the BRCA gene, but on the other hand, it stinks — plain and simple! I am not going to sugarcoat it. It’s hard enough to be consumed by cancer for myself, but now my family? I hate the anxieties that come along with this knowledge, especially for each of them. I am worried sick about all of them.

They needed to meet with a genetic doctor and consequently, they have now added a whole new slew of doctors to help them deal with this. They need to go for screening tests and in some cases, prophylactic surgeries have been suggested. There are enough things to worry about in life, whether you’re younger or older, but to add this to one’s plate can be overwhelming. Of course, it’s anxiety-provoking and it is never-ending. You always have to be worried about it. The way I see it is you have to learn to somehow compartmentalize it or it will take away from the joys of daily life.

My family has watched me do this. I refuse to waste my precious time worrying about what might happen and when. I put it on the back burner and make an appointment with worry (no longer than 15 minutes. a day) so as not to let it win and consume my life. I want to enjoy the time I have and I hope and pray if they learn nothing else from me, that they will try to do the same. Now, I have done that for myself, but the real question is, can I now figure out how to not worry about my family members?

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