The unordered, repeated stages of coping with trauma


I feel my “BRCA vacation” is coming to an end. I haven’t heard a word from my genetics counselor and I feel I must take action. Odd that she really impressed me at our meeting, but she’s completely dropped the ball since then. She had several tasks that she was going to follow up with me on. She even told me she would be contacting “by the end of next week.” She said that two months ago. I’m wondering if my file just got completely forgotten.

I feel I ought to be dismayed about this, but I’m not really. I am in a sort of delusion that “no news is good news.” Really, in some ways, in the last two months it felt like I had never heard of BRCA. And now I feel like I am coming to terms with it all again from the beginning. On the phone with my grandmother, we were talking about her treatment, my mom’s treatment, my aunt’s treatment, my first cousin’s decisions on testing, my cousin once removed’s test result, my grandmother’s intuition all her life that cancer for her was inevitable… I realized at that moment I have been in some denial of late.

BRCA for me has been a roller-coaster of emotions. And I have never thought of myself as an emotional person. I guess to be fair, it did come quite sudden on me. Up until last year, I only knew of one woman in my family who died of cancer. I thought it was an unfortunate exception. Then in a matter of months—all in separate incidents—I found out my grandmother has breast cancer, and my mother has breast cancer, and this is not my grandmother’s first diagnosis, and there’s a genetic mutation which can significantly increase the risk of breast cancer, and my mother and grandmother both have the mutation, and I may have it too. I guess that might qualify as a “traumatic” time. I find myself looking back at the last few months now, and realizing that I have just gone through a turning point in my life.

So the irony is that my initial response in hearing BRCA was to research it like mad. I spent literally all day and all night reading everything I could. I started out with an open mind to preventive surgeries. I immediately appreciated the gravity of the risk statistics. Then found myself dreading the idea of an oophorectomy, although willing to embrace a non-reconstruction mastectomy. And then I found myself thinking that life is all about risk and eventually death, so perhaps there was nothing to think about after all. And all of this occurred before even drawing my blood for the actual test. Then after this whirlwind of researching, emotions, and hypothetical decisions, I finally went back to so-called stage one: denial.

I suppose in some sense, it hasn’t been complete denial. Besides the initial trauma of all this information in such a short time, I have been struggling with philosophical angst. I am not a religious person. And BRCA has made some of those big questions of life much more immediate to me. But I don’t have a guidebook to follow, so I guess it takes me more time to make sense of this. I’m also a thinking-type of person. I’m in the midst of a career change too, and so I naturally spend a lot of time wondering what I am doing with my life. (Thank god my girlfriend is more of a doer and not like me too, otherwise nothing would get done in our house.)

Well, anyways, I ready to start—with a little more trepidation—-facing BRCA again. I am going to write an email to the genetic counselor, really. I am going to make sure I get a screening appointment regardless if I do testing now or later. And I’m going to continue to ponder those philosophical life questions.


2 Responses to “The unordered, repeated stages of coping with trauma”

  1. Thank you for your blog, and for speaking so eloquently and honestly about the emotions and decisions that come with BRCA. I have a feeling many people will learn from your journey.

  2. Sorry that your genetic counselor isn’t so good with the follow up. I hope that she’s more responsive when you remind her that she owes you some information. I’m also glad to hear that you are going to go in for screening. Even if you wait to get tested and you turn out to be negative, no harm is done by going in for a few cancer screenings.

    Ever since learning that there might be a BRCA mutation in my family two years ago, I’ve been going through the roller coaster on a regular basis. There are times when I totally forget that I have a BRCA mutation, and there are times when it seems like an enormous cloud of doom. It’s a constant exercise of keeping things in perspective. Good luck in dealing with it all.

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