Thursday, October 22, 2015

A Time For Change

I have always been one of those people who avoids conflict and confrontation like the plague. I grew up in a house where I was the least skilled at arguing and debating, so I didn't bother advocating for myself very much. Instead, I spent my time trying to keep the peace between family members. Later in life, this translated into not arguing with friends and co-workers, not sending food back at restaurants even if it was frozen, and waiting for three hours in a doctor's waiting room before inquiring about an obvious delay in care.

Then I had kids, and I discovered that motherhood REQUIRED that I advocate my kids, especially before they had developed language skills. This helped me gain confidence in voicing my opinion.

Then I learned I had the BRCA1 mutation, and I discovered that I needed to be my own best advocate - in researching the options I had for preventative care, in fighting for coverage for the prophylactic procedures I was choosing, and in finding and communicating with health care professionals. The experience gave me even confidence in speaking up for myself.

I don't like arguing for arguments' sake, but when something or someone is worth advocating for, I now feel justified in fighting a good fight.

The American Cancer Society has just recommended that "average risk" women begin having annual mammograms at the age of 45, rather than at the age of 40. They have also recommended that the annual mammograms continue only until the age of 54, at which time they would take place every two years. They have ALSO recommended against clinical breast exams for all 

These new guidelines make no sense to either my head OR my heart. My heart aches for the many "average risk" women I know who were diagnosed with breast cancer before they turned 45, whose prognosis would have been far more grim had mammograms not been available to them. My head wants to argue the facts: For the past 25 years, the rate of deaths from breast cancer has been decreasing. The largest decrease in death from breast cancer has been among women age 50 or younger. This is largely attributed to the widespread access and encouragement of early breast cancer screenings, screenings which were supported by the American Cancer Society’s prior recommendations. 

This is why I have started a petition on, opposing the American Cancer Society's new recommendations for breast cancer screenings. It is a fight that my heart and mind believe is more than worth fighting. I hope that others will bring their voices, their emotions, and their experiences to this petition, and that a collective voice of opposition to these recommendations will strengthen and grow.

If you are a cancer survivor, if you are a previvor, if you have a relative or friend who has battled cancer, if you are a citizen who is concerned with the influence these recommendations may have on future insurance policies and women's health, please consider signing this petition. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Very New Year

It happens quite often. My birthday coincides with one of the major Jewish holidays pretty much every year. This year, my major milestone 40th birthday will be taking place on the holiday of Yom Kippur, which is seriously the most serious Jewish holiday of them all. It’s a day of fasting, repentance,  self-reflection and groveling. Sounds like a real party, right?

About eight months ago, while I was planning my major surgery, I was simultaneously fantasizing about throwing a big, blow-out birthday bash for my fortieth. I felt like I deserved it, and like I wanted to celebrate life and living via an evening of semi-debaucherous activities, which would include fancy cocktails and karaoke and dancing and cupcakes.

Well, about four months ago, when I found out I was pregnant, those plans flew out the window. And after going through the past four months of morning sickness, heartburn, weight gain, and other various bodily discomforts, I have changed my vision of how I would like to celebrate my upcoming birthday, especially realizing that my birthday falls on Yom Kippur. Instead of painting the town red, I am now picturing a quiet evening with my kids (Chris will be on-call tomorrow night, which means he is unlikely to get home before 10 pm), eating a bagel and a few celebratory carrot sticks with dip (luckily us pregnant ladies are not required to fast – I’d never make it past 10 am), and seizing the moment to really reflect on the blessings of this past year (and decade), and the hopes for the year (and decade) to come.

Because, MAN, my thirties were CRAZY. I met my husband, married my husband, gave birth to two children, held three different jobs, lost my mother, my father-in-law had a stroke, we bought and sold our first home, bought a second home, I had major cancer-preventing surgery, and got pregnant AGAIN. That’s A LOT of activity, energy, and emotion to fit into one decade.
And here I am on the cusp of my forties. And I want to take the moment to focus on all that I have going in to this new decade of life.

I have a beautiful, amazing daughter who will be turning five in a month. Ember has blossomed in countless ways over the past year.  She started kindergarten! And despite her slightly nervous, slightly fearful personality, she seems to really be enjoying it. Last summer she was scared to death of swimming; this year we could not get her out of the water even if we tried. I think she actually has become a mermaid. She still plays by herself beautifully, making up amazing storylines and truly diving deep into her pretend worlds (we are going to enroll her in Drama Kids International to see if her imagination can bloom even further). She is an emotional, sensitive, creative spirit, through and through. And she is a great older sister to Oren. Granted, some days it is easier for her to share her toys than others, but that would be true of any kid. Generally speaking, the two of them are wonderful to watch together – they share their made-up worlds, are concerned for each other’s well beings, and are truly good friends.

As for Oren himself, he is an incredible 2.5 year old boy. At school, his teacher calls him “the professor.” Truly, he astonishes with his vocabulary. And as I like to say to my friends, the only way I know Oren is asleep is that he stops asking questions. I imagine that the inside of his brain looks like a super highway, with cars moving in all sorts of directions simultaneously. But besides being a super smart kid, Oren is one of the kindest hearted children I have known (and I am not at ALL biased). I am glad to say that the hugs, cuddles, and general love that he bestowed upon me as an infant has not gone away, and in fact it may have actually grown in the past few years. Oren is totally the cheerleader of our family. On days when the rest of us are tired and dragging our feet, Oren is singing songs and excitedly cheering us on with jokes, laughter, and silly faces.

And then there is my husband. Chris is my LOVE – despite his hectic and exhausting work schedule, he has been a true partner in parenting, and our adoration and friendship only continues to grow as our family grows. Granted, I would love to spend more time with him. Last night we snuck a few minutes of pillow talk into our evening before both of us fell fast asleep, a moment I totally treasured. I know that finding moments to connect with Chris is going to only get more challenging with three kiddos in the house, but we will figure out a way to do it (calling all amazing babysitters – WE NEED YOU)! And I have some pretty solid plans for us to finally go on our honeymoon when we celebrate our 10th anniversary in 5 years... I may just start counting down the days now.

And this little being growing inside my body? What an unbelievable surprise he was, and what a beautiful 40th birthday present he will be (god willing). He will join our family in 2016 and will be another source of joy, of love, and inspiration in our home. Chris, Ember, Oren and I will all learn that our hearts are capable of so deeply loving yet another human being, another family member. As much as I complain about the not-so-fun side of being pregnant, when I feel the little pitter patter of the growing boy running around in my body, I know for certain I am incredibly blessed.

There is also my health to be thankful for. And our brilliant extended family. And our wonderful friends. And our home. And our minivan (yup, we are THAT family now). So very much to reflect on with abundant gratitude.

So while my fortieth birthday celebration might not qualify for Bravo Channel’s “My Fab 40th,” I feel no loss. I’ll take this quiet moment of celebration, reflection, and appreciation.

And who knows? Maybe I will have a raucous 41st birthday party ;).