Spirit Matters: For those who have gone before us

Pardon me if this sounds more like a public service announcement, than the reflections with which you are familiar.

But I would be remiss if I did not write of today’s subject matter.

It could save your life or that of someone you love.

Because I have prevalence of breast cancer in my family, I recently had genetic testing done to determine my risk of developing it.

Turns out, that risk is high. Very high.

My results revealed I have the BRCA2 gene mutation, which predisposes me to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer and skin cancer. (Men who have this mutation have a higher risk for prostrate cancer).

In addition, I have the CTNNA-1 gene mutation, which predisposes me to a rare, but serious form of cancer of the stomach lining.

In the last month and a half, I have had various tests on my breasts and reproductive system, some of them causing great discomfort.

The good news is I do not have cancer at this time.

However, this Monday, I have a consultation with a breast surgeon, to discuss options for removal.

Because the BRCA2 gene mutation frequently does develop into cancer, and because I have a strong family history of it, medical experts recommend a complete mastectomy and total hysterectomy.

I could also alternate mammograms and a breast magnetic resonance imaging tests every six months, if I don’t have my breasts removed.

My husband and I will consider all options the surgeon gives us, based on my tests, and determine the best way for us to move forward.

As I am faced with these options, I am confronted with the loss of all the physical parts of my body that have until now defined me as a female, and the profound grief that accompanies such a loss.

Although I have never borne children of my own, I have had regular menstrual periods since I was an adolescent. Despite the pain and irregularity, I wish now I would have been more appreciative of them, as a symbol of the miraculous potential I carried to bear another human being in my body.

I wish I would have seen them as the gift they are, and intentionally listened to the natural rhythms of my feminine body ... to withdraw and care for myself as my uterus monthly shed its lining, and to put my creative ideas into action on the other side of my cycle.

I find my womb space to be the creative center of my being. I believe it will remain that, regardless of how I move forward. Yet, removal cannot help but have a psychological and emotional effect on me, which is why I am currently participating in an online course with serendipitous timing, designed for women like me to really connect with the deep feminine spirit that is our birthright.

And, is there any more significant symbol of womanhood in our world than one’s breasts? I have certainly never been one to fixate on them, but faced with their removal, how will others see me? How will I see myself?

All of that being said, I feel fortunate and grateful that modern technology allows this kind of testing, and I strongly encourage anyone reading this who has a family history of these types of cancer to speak with your provider about having it done.

My options are pretty clearly defined. The thought of having these parts removed as a preventative measure, or risking somewhere down the line hearing the “C” word from my practitioner, and having to undergo chemotherapy or radiation gives me much to contemplate.

I know there are many who have gone before me, and I know the toll it takes on one’s family when cancer is a daily reality. Having had the genetic testing done, and potentially being able to all but remove the chance of getting cancer in these parts of my body, makes me feel that maybe, just maybe, their battles were not in vain.

SPIRIT MATTERS is a weekly column that examines experiences common to the human spirit. Contact Jerrilyn Zavada Novak at jzblue33@yahoo.com to share how you engage your spirit in your life and community.