Genetic Couseling – Part I

Yesterday I went to start the process of pursuing genetic testing further to that which I had done while living in Belgium. The first step is “genetic counseling”, even if you’ve already had this. This basically means you make an appointment with a specialist who talks to you for a good long while and explains the whole shebang to you. While I feared getting redundant testing and was not eager to pay again for something I’d had done already, I’m very happy with the way this went – “re-counseling” and all.

My counselor was Tiffani, a young, cute woman my age, warm and sincere. The kind you’re sure you’d be friends with under other circumstances. First she explained why we will start by testing for BRCA 1/2, even though that’s been done (and came up negative): because this hospital has no familiarity with the lab where I had it done in Europe and thus doesn’t know exactly how that lab did what it did and exactly what it did, since there are some different methods. Furthermore, in the last 2-3 years, new elements have been added to BRCA 1/2 testing to make it much more thorough and reliable. I’m all for that.

We spoke for about 1 1/2 hours, she asked me everything you could imagine about my cancer, from experience to family history to how I care for myself now. And it happened. That strange thing where I feel just fine, but when I have to explain to a perfect stranger about my cancer for the first time, suddenly I start crying. I hate it. I don’t know why it happens, but there it is.

She asked, “And when the doctor told you, I mean, where you just…floored?” I’m not sure whether she asked this for professional or personal reasons, which was the first thing to rattle me I guess. Somewhere inside, I felt we were talking girl to girl and she really cared. Like when someone hugs you at a funeral and suddenly you want to weep, even if you’d had your game face on.

So as I felt the catch in my throat, I headed it off with, “Please don’t worry. I’m not sad. I don’t know why this happens sometimes. I’m okay, really.” I blotted my eyes and she began to apologize profusely, while I tried to assure her she had nothing to be sorry about. The last time this happened was when I had to explain to my new yoga teacher about “any injuries [she] should know about”. Weird. (She went off on a tangent about holistic medicine and how she convinced her grandpa to drink a cup of urine a day at one point. Um, ok. Weirder.)

My only theory is that I have developed such an over-sensitive empathy-trigger that I sort of cry for the girl that was so scared in the moment she was told the heavy news. These days I could cry about the teenager who doesn’t get asked to the dance in a sitcom, if I let myself. All someone has to do is cry and part of me wants to join them (Can you imagine me watching Extreme Home Makeover?)  So even if that person is the former me, I can remember her sadness very clearly…that’s my only guess.

Anyway, what happened is that I spilled about 3 tears and then put it back in the bottle. About 15 minutes later, here we are talking, talking, serious genetic stuff, blah blah blah. And suddenly, out of the blue,  Tiffani’s lip starts to tremble. Then it’s her turn to say, “Oh my, I’m so sorry. I don’t know what’s happening. Here we are just talking and…just sitting here across from you, it just happened. I’m so embarrassed. This has never happened to me before.” I assured her she was simply an empathetic person and I appreciated that, but sure enough her demonstration of care made me cry again. So there we were, two strangers, friendly women in a serious scientific conversation, sniffing and blotting our eyes as we make each other cry. Cue awkward giggle.

I know she was horrified, but I was actually very touched. After we fanned our faces and took a few breaths, we got back on track. And I spent the rest of the meeting not looking her in the eye too much lest we start again, and remembering who I am now.

Coming soon, what I learned…


Filed under breast cancer

3 responses to “Genetic Couseling – Part I

  1. The same thing happened to me as I neared the end of my treatments. A wonderful woman came in to get her herceptin shot (or something). She had just finished her reconstruction. Next thing you know she’s on her knees in front of me with her shirt up so I can take a picture of the girls for Mike to see. (I was just getting ready to undergo the same surgery…)

    As if that wasn’t embarrassing enough, we sat and talked for about 30 minutes about the whole Cancer Thing… we both bawled several times.

    It just goes to show how near to the surface the fear is at all times. We women are experts at applying that cover-up, but the blemishes are still right there just below the facade…

  2. my mom had breast cancer at 38 (about 10 years ago now… she’d be thrilled to know that i just revealed her age!) i just got diagnosed with hodgkin’s in may, and now we’re going through genetic testing… my mom had her test for BRCA 1/2 yesterday, so we’re waiting for the results… good luck with your results! i’m glad you got a counselor who was sensitive (even if it might have been awkward at first…)


  3. Uuuh, well. That’s totally me too. The first time through just reading your story brought me to that place over and over. For this reason, I don’t read many blogs. So, I easily understand it. And it’s not a bad thing. We should laugh with those who laugh, and mourn with those who mourn.

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