Thursday, February 19, 2009

The plot thickens...or I had a Hungarian grandmother...

We called her Nudgemama and she was my Mother's mother. She died when I was 10 or 12and she was close to 90. Her name was Julia and she was a milliner in Debrecen, Hungary before she came to America in the late 1800's to become the bride of a Hungarian widower. She got pregnant 14 times, gave birth 11 times, and had 9 children who lived. My mother, who is now 85, was the youngest. She never learned English and always lived in Carteret, NJ. As a child, I remember going to see her with my Mom...at that point she lived on the second floor of a row house. It was quite dark; she was very old, had a long grey braid down past her knees, she wore heavy black shoes and had lace doilies on her furniture. My uncle Joe, who smoked and drank, lived in the front room. Nudgemama only spoke Hungarian and she could only converse with my Mom or Uncle Joe. The only words we knew how to say to her were "Koszonom, Nudgemama"...thank you, Grandmother. She would serve us 7-Up at her round wooden table or Jello when she had some. Have you ever seen Jim Jarmusch's film "Stranger Than Paradise"? The Hungarian Aunt Lotte always reminded me of Nudgemama.

When Nudgemama died, my Mom always said it was from old age and other ailments. That's why it was shocking to learn the other day at my Mom's oncology appt, that supposedly she had died of breast cancer. For our entire lives, no one has known this. I have 2 sisters and my younger sis has 3 girls. This could be a lineage of breast cancer. As my Mom revealed this important detail of family history to her new oncologist, my Dad and I stared back in disbelief. He had never heard of it either. Apparently in Nudgemama's dying months, as old and feeble as she was, she never let anyone near her and never saw any doctors. When my Mother finally saw her body, her breast was apparently "eaten away by cancer." Thanks Mom, for the breaking news. My sisters and I have been filling out our medical histories for years checking "No" under breast cancer in the family. Oh la la...

So now, I am being tested for the BRACA gene. It is a specific genetic mutation that indicates a tendency towards an inherited breast cancer in the female lineage of the family. It sharply raises the percentage of recurrence and also tends to point towards ovarian cancer as well. Great. Now I have a grandmother who died of breast cancer, a mother who has breast cancer and then there's me. The chances are slight that I carry this gene...but I am the fulcrum. If I test positive, then my sisters need to be tested. If my younger sis tests positive, then her daughters will need to be tested when they turn 18. All signs point to negative for me...my cancer being an anomaly and the cancer of my Mom and Nudgemama being a result of old age. I find out in 2-3 weeks. Just another piece of shit to heap on the pile...

P.S. Chemo #3 went off without a hitch on Tuesday and now I am just very, very tired so far...I have an Echo tomorrow to make sure that my heart is working:) and then we see my superstar surgeon, Dr Smith, for my Mom's appt.

3 comments:

Anonymous said...

Gail...try to worry too much about the gene test...I think cancer on your dad's side is more a predictor. You will be lucky if it comes back in 3 weeks also, FYI. It was almost two months after we found out Lee had cancer before she was able to have her double mastectomy because we had to wait on so many terrifying tests...the bone scan was the one that really did us in. Anyway, Dr.Smith is a god..your mom is in good hands now. And..cancer is the one scenario where the YOUNGER you are, the more aggressive the disease...at 85, she's got her age working FOR her.Lee got to pass on her chemo this week(her levels were too low) and was able to make a trip to LA to see family and old friends...and be out in the world again.Incredible.I am beginning to feel,if not yet see, the light. We are thinking of you. Take care. Julie Hunsaker

deborah d. lattimore said...

i'm adopted and found my birth family in 1997. i found out that my grandmother and mother both had breast cancer and died of breast cancer that spread to the bone. i will get the BRCA test once i'm finished with treatment, but insurance doesn't cover the $3000 fee. i'm having the testing done because if i'm positive, my sons have a much higher chance of pancreatic, prostate, and breast cancer. it's important for them to know. and if they have children, it's valuable info. i hate the thought of passing something this awful to them. i had an echocardiogram yesterday to make sure the adriamycin isn't ruining my heart. the anemia makes it so hard to breathe, and my heart is always pounding. glad your #3 went off without a hitch. i have my #3 this coming wednesday. the LAST AC! bonne sante, mon amie! xoxo

Capital Sew and Sew said...

Gail
Oh those mothers! Mine had "some sort of "woman's" cancer ("""" down there""") when she was about 30 - she can't remember the name....doesn't want us to have the records! How does this work - mothering one?? You are supposed to look out for me....

And this from a mom who I know loves me and I her! Generational? Denial? Fear if she passes on the information the that act will somehow pass on the ailment??? AAGGHH!!

So I share your frustrations. All I can say is thank God for science and de-coding the genetic mystery! BRAC - attack! At least you will have one more bit of data and DATA RULES! CANCER DROOLS!

XXOO
Laura Lee