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Making the Tough Calls

Making decisions is generally difficult, at least for me. A quick run to grab a product can turn into an entire internal debate of new (possibly better!?) or same old (tried and true!). Though, to be fair to myself, recently I've been able to shave a few minutes and a bit of stress off my decision-making process. In all seriousness, though, the big, tough calls are often the absolute hardest to make. They never have one right answer and they are never clear-cut or have easy outs. What is true of every decision, I believe, is that we are trying our hardest to make the best decision possible with the information we have at hand. Further, we don't need to like everyone's decisions, but we should try to have some respect for those that are making the choice; they, like you, are doing the best they can.

Here are a few ongoing decisions I'm living and dealing with:

Can You Say Cancer?

One of my toughest groups of decisions came with a diagnosis of a gene mutation. It was unexpected, I didn't ask for it, and it is nobodies fault. But I have to live with it for the rest of my life. Just over two years ago I got scary news; my mom was dealing with breast cancer. Later I would hear that it was really early stage, not so scary, but cancer nonetheless. This, by itself, was terrifying, but there was more. Due to other medical history, a genetics test was recommended which showed BRCA2. BRCA2 is one of the gene mutations that signify a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, along with an increased risk of pancreatic cancer and melanoma. All family members had a 50% chance of having inherited the same mutation. I was beside myself with worry. Did I want to know? Should I chance NOT knowing? But that was the easy part, or at least I thought it would be easy.

I decided to get tested and was unsettled for days while I waited to hear my fate. I tried to prepare myself for the possibility, but there wasn't anything that prepares you to absolutely know that you have a high risk of cancer, regardless of kind. Sure, breast and ovarian cancer are quite treatable these days, especially comparatively, but it wasn't really that that bothered me. It was the possibility of losing parts of myself, especially the anatomy that made me visibly female. It's a part of me and my identity as a woman.

Now, being positive for BRCA2 doesn't mean that you, in any way, have breast or ovarian cancer, but you are at a much higher risk than normal. One statistic that stuck in my head, once I was diagnosed as positive, was that after a certain age (50, I think it was) there was a 15% chance I wouldn't get breast read that correctly, wouldn't. I know that statistics are just that, statistics, but this was a jarring one. One that made me feel as though I needed to start mourning the loss of some of my feminine identity, in a few ways.

I wasn't one who really thought I wanted kids. There was one point just after college we had considered having kids, but in the end we just weren't ready. And soon after I came to the realization that, quite possibly, I didn't want them at all. (The rest of this is a discussion for another time, I have many thoughts and feelings on this subject for another post!) So, being pretty sure I didn't want kids and realizing that having kids meant passing this mutation onward, I had to mourn what could have been, as this wasn't something I could knowingly pass to any offspring of mine. Kids were completely and firmly off the table. And that's OK.

Previous to this diagnosis, I had put little real thought into how much I appreciate my feminine figure. Now that I had a real possibility of loosing that to breast cancer, I put some serious thought into what I would do if I ended up dealing with breast cancer... How would I feel like a woman if I didn't have breasts? Sure, there are implants but, honestly, after talking to my mother about her experience with a double mastectomy and reconstruction, there is no way I want to get reconstruction. It's uncomfortable, it's two surgeries, you need to wear an underwire bra 24/7 (yuck!!); it just sounded so awful. And it's important enough to redefine some of my weirdly specific ideas about what it means to be a woman. If I ever have to get a mastectomy, I will just get cool tattoos instead of reconstruction!

Beyond the self reflection, I've needed to make major changes to my lifestyle for the prevention of cancer. The biggest thing was going vegan, I miss cheese and yogurt, but there is a lot of science out there that supports ridding your diet of dairy and animal products.

I was also encouraged to get regular MRIs along with a few other, less expensive tests. I cannot afford a yearly breast MRI! I don't make that kind of money, and most insurances cover some but not all of the cost...and that would be every year. So, I'm just doing my best to be healthy and have regular checkups; it's the best I can do and was a very emotional and stressful call to make.

Our Pandemic: COVID-19

We are currently faced with a pandemic that has a great number of people in mass amounts of panic. Toilet paper and other normal things are scarce commodities. Elders are afraid to even set foot in grocery stores. We are being asked to start social distancing, which I will be calling 'exiling for the good of the nation' from this point forward. All of these things are scary and uncomfortable. It's terribly difficult to know what call to make in this time of chaos. But, I do know that panic is not the answer.

Definitely for the first news stories and information about COVID-19 I wasn't worried. I'm in my thirties and not a high-risk category for the virus (I thought). I figured, sure, it's like a hopped up flu. I'll be fine. Then, as more and more stories surfaced and more people became agitated, I began to wonder. Finally, this last week, it was young people in Italy that were needing treatment, the healthcare system was overwhelmed, and triage became necessary along with full lockdown. For some, it took Broadway, Disneyland and World, and other big companies closing down for a few weeks to a month (or more) for it to sink in that this is BIG. This is no small issue. We all need to work together to mitigate the impact.

It's not easy to make a call. It's severely uncomfortable and going against our social nature to exile ourselves, even for the good of the nation. Some simply cannot exile themselves due to their line of work, inability for remote work, or need to keep cash coming into their bank accounts. I definitely get that, and that's a call some will have to make. I am lucky that my company had the ability and drive to push everyone who could to remote work. I can easily exile myself and keep my day job.

The small social gatherings were the hardest to decide. So far, the state of Oregon has banned large gatherings over 250 people. Our group of friends is much smaller. We meet regularly for a podcast, a game night, and a Star Wars RPG session every week. But in light of how the virus spreads and the math involved, it just felt safer to actively exile ourselves from all social contact. (So sorry to all our extroverted friends!!)

I am definitely scared, but the calls I've made were made assessing the information I have and making a tough call to do what I felt best for more than just me. I'm young and healthy, but I could still spread things further if I go on acting like life is normal. I may be more of an introvert at times, but I really enjoy getting to see our friends multiple times a week. The next few weeks (or more) are going to be weird, but I can rest easy knowing I made the best call I could, erring on the side of caution.

Disclaimer: I am not a medical professional. All the things stated above are the facts I know to the best of my ability. Please do your own research to come to your own conclusions.


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