In March of 2013 after a routine mammogram I received a diagnosis of breast cancer. After discovering that I was a carrier of the BRCA2 mutation I had a bilateral mastectomy in April, breast reconstruction and ovarian removal in May. Fortunately, the cancer was small, only in one breast, and hadn’t spread to the lymph nodes, so I didn’t have to undergo chemotherapy. The reconstruction was difficult and long, but I recuperated fairly quickly from the multiple surgeries (probably due to my high level of fitness as a runner). I celebrated my recovery by running the New York City Marathon on Nov. 3, 2013, between stages of breast reconstruction. I raised about $5,000 for the Dublin Breast Center at Mount Sinai Hospital.
Running the marathon was a way for me to say to breast cancer that I would fight it and not let it get me, and it gave me a sense of control over my body. It made me constantly reflect on my mortality and the lack of control over my body, even though I’ve done everything I could to be fit and healthy my entire adult life. I’ve been a runner since the late 1970s, when I was in my 20s, and have always eaten a healthy, low-fat diet. During the marathon, I felt strong and determined. When I ran up 5th Ave by Mount Sinai Hospital where I had been treated I was overcome by emotion.
A few days after the 2013 marathon I had the tissue extenders replaced with implants, which involved another recovery period. After that I continued to run, improving my times until in late September of 2015 my son, then age 34, suddenly died of a burst ulcer while he was living in Peru. The overwhelming grief and anxiety affected my running and stamina and I realized the strong connection between emotional and physical health. While experiencing chest pain (that ultimately was determined to be related to the grief), I found out that I had yet another hereditary condition—a high percentage of Lipoprotein-A, which is a particle in the blood that carries cholesterol, fats and proteins, causing a build-up of fatty deposits in the arteries and thus an increased risk for heart attack and stroke. It isn’t affected by diet and exercise– another thing that gave me less control over my body. Shortly before my son’s death, my then 29-year old daughter tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation, which is a source of anxiety for both of us.
We never know what the next big test in life will be, and many things are out of our control—but knowing that people are willing to make sacrifices to help combat cancer and other diseases can give us some comfort.