Reflections on the BRCA legacy

I’m delighted that Tablet magazine published my latest piece! You can read the beginning below and the rest at Tablet. 

I was 5 years old when my mom first got cancer.

One of my earliest memories is of lying in my parents’ bed, watching my mother stand naked in front of the mirror on the bathroom door. Brow furrowed, she is feeling her left breast; she says, “There’s something here.” I can’t help but wonder about the authenticity of this memory. Why would I—so young at the time—remember this particular moment, which I had no way of knowing would be the turning point of our lives? But the memory’s authenticity is cemented by one mundane detail: I can see the crack in the mirror, running from the corner to the center. This is the only memory I have of my mother with two breasts.

In the 33 years and five recurrences between my mother’s first cancer diagnosis and her death, she was always very open about her illness (far too open, I thought as a teenager). Yet she refused for many years to undergo genetic testing to see if she carried BRCA, the genetic mutation disproportionately found in Ashkenazi Jews that can cause breast cancer—despite the fact that her mother, too, had been diagnosed with the disease as a young woman. Read the rest at Tablet

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3 Responses to Reflections on the BRCA legacy

  1. Leah Gordon says:

    Judith, thanks for the heads-up! Your essay brought tears to my eyes; what a nice way you have of telling the generational stories. I definitely also hear what that one commenter is saying, that being able to take off the time and figure out the insurance for the prophylactic mastectomies (as both you and I did) is definitely easier from a place of socioeconomic and educational privilege!

  2. Leah Gordon says:

    p.s. Def agree re “pop out the ovaries” – did you really say that back to the doctor about not realizing they pop out? I have had so many doctors (usually fertility doctors) make really objectifying statements about my body…. Like when a breast exam hurt so much I was crying, and she said, “if you can’t take this, how do you even *have* sex?” I wish I had had the presence of mind to say, “Oh! Could that be the problem?” 😉

  3. Sandra J Orenstein says:

    Thanks Judith. You are an amazing & compelling writer & woman!!!

    Sent from my iPhone

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