Remembering Mom as I get genetic test results back

The results for the genetic testing I underwent last month came back, and they’re negative.

I was relieved when I found out that I don’t carry the BRCA gene mutation. If I had the mutation, I would have had up to an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer in my lifetime, and would have been at risk of getting ovarian cancer. Because I don’t have it, my chances of getting breast cancer are now just 21 percent. (The average woman has a 10 percent chance of getting it.)

I’m still considered “high risk,” so my doctor suggested that I get clinical breast exams every six months. Once I turn 30, he said, I should start getting a mammogram every six months and an MRI every six months. Until then, I should alternate between a mammogram and an MRI every year so that I don’t expose myself to so much radiation at a young age.

I’m torn about whether I should get screened so often. If my insurance company will pay for the bulk of the screenings, then I’ll be more likely to get them. I know how important they are, and I now realize that I have to start doing self-breast exams so I can detect any lumps or changes that may be cause for concern. I often avoid doing breast self exams for fear of what I’ll find, and I had been putting off genetic testing for years. I decided to get tested, though, after my boyfriend and my best friend both convinced me to do it. I’m glad I did. Now I don’t have to worry about the unknown and I can instead be proactive about what I can control — my ability to get screenings.

I’m trying not to worry about what could happen in the future. Yes, I am at an increased risk of getting breast cancer, but there’s a 79 percent chance I won’t get it. There’s good reason to have hope, and I know my mom would want me to.

Fifteen years ago today, Mom passed away from breast cancer, which had spread to her bone marrow, her liver and her brain. She was only 40. It’s hard to imagine that it’s already been 15 years. Some days it feels as though she was just here. Other days, it feels like an eternity. I know she’s always with me, though, and I’m reminded of her every day. Of all the lessons Mom taught me, perhaps the most important one was to not let fear stifle you.

My mom found a lump in her breast but waited months before seeing a doctor because she was scared. I don’t want to ever do that. I want to live the life my mom didn’t get to live, and I’m trying to take the right steps to increase the likelihood that I’ll live a healthy, long life. (It’s tough at times, though.)

Fear can make you not want to go to the doctor, or it can make you feel as though you’re a coward who needs to struggle alone. Mom ultimately turned her fear into courage, though — the courage to finally confront her disease and fight it out until the end. She passed this courage on to me, and it’s one of the greatest gifts she could have given me. For that, I’ll be forever grateful.

Published by Mallary Tenore Tarpley

Mallary is a mom of two young kiddos -- Madelyn and Tucker. Mallary absolutely loves being a mom and often writes about the need to find harmony when juggling motherhood and work. Mallary is the Assistant Director of the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas at the University of Texas at Austin, where she manages the Center's various programs related to distance learning, freedom of expression, and digital journalism. Previously, she was Executive Director of Images & Voices of Hope and Managing Editor of The Poynter Institute’s media news site, Poynter.org. Mallary grew up outside of Boston and graduated from Providence College in Rhode Island. In 2015, she received a certificate in nonprofit management from Duke University. She now lives in beautiful Austin, Texas, with her kids, husband Troy and cat Clara. She's working on a memoir, slowly but surely. You can reach her at mjtenore@gmail.com.

5 thoughts on “Remembering Mom as I get genetic test results back

  1. I don’t know you but I read your blog. Glad to hear the good news about your greatly reduced chances for breast cancer, thank goodness! I want to reiterate what your doctor said about the radiation exposure. Thyroid cancer is on the rise in women in the US. Over a lifetime radiation can build up. I’d also suggest fewer dental x-rays since it’s a correlating factor. Find a dentist who will respect your wishes. That lead apron dentists use doesn’t usually cover the thyroid. May your life be VERY long and happy!

    1. Thanks for your note, Lynn. I’ll keep what you said in mind. I do try to limit the number of X-rays I get, especially at the dentist. Want to try to limit my exposure to radiation as much as I can!

      Best,
      ~Mallary

  2. Thanks so much for sharing this! I just watched it, explored the app, and was inspired to write a column about it. I’ll send you the link to it once it’s live next week if you want.

    Hope all is well with you!

  3. I don’t know why, but my comment to the Morris Lessmore video posted twice: once under the appropriate post, and once here. I’m really sorry about that.

    In response to this post: I am glad to hear that you don’t carry the BRCA gene mutation. It takes courage to face up to all of this like you did, and I admire you for it. Thank goodness for the good news. I imagine your relief, and inner strength all these years, would make your mom smile.

    1. No worries, Kristina. I was definitely relieved when I heard the news.

      Thanks for reading my blog and always taking the time to comment. It means a lot to me! 🙂 I hope you’re doing well.

      We need to catch up more soon; I want to hear about all your adventures!

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