The test is simple, but the decision to take it isn’t.

It’s a simple blood draw, but the results could change your life, even add years to it.

The test will tell you if you are BRCA positive.

If the result is negative, you celebrate. If the result is positive, you cry, then you celebrate that you can take action to instead of waiting to get cancer.

If you are positive, the risk of getting breast cancer in your lifetime can be as high as 84 percent. If the results are positive, you can opt for greater vigilance and special cancer screening. Or you can have your breasts removed.

How can you have two perfectly good breasts removed?

Here’s the thing, if you are BRCA positive, you don’t have two perfectly good breasts. You have a mutation in every cell. And if you have it, you can to do something about it before cancer does something to you.

On Sept. 27, The New York Times ran an essay by Elizabeth Wurtzel, the author of “Prozac Nation: Young and Depressed in America.”

So far, she’s had eight rounds of chemo to treat breast cancer.

“I could have had a mastectomy with reconstruction and skipped the part where I got cancer. I feel like the biggest idiot for not doing so,” she wrote.

She’s not an idiot. She did the best she could with the information she had at the time. But now that she knows better, she wants you to know better and to do better.

“I could have avoided all this if I had been tested for the BRCA mutation,” she wrote. “All Ashkenazi Jewish women should be tested, because we have it at least 10 times the rate of the rest of the population: Up to one in 400 women is BRCA-positive, as opposed to one in 40 Ashkenazi Jews.”

She calls herself the “designated driver” at her seder table. She writes, “It’s simple: All Ashkenazi Jewish women should have the BRCA test.”

She shared a study from the University of California, Los Angeles: “For every 10,000 Ashkenazi Jewish women tested, 62 breast cancers are averted.”

October is breast cancer awareness month. Some people get overpowered by the pink. They’re tired of hearing about breast cancer.

Not me. I remember a time when no one said the C word. No one wore ribbons. No one raced for a cure. No one talked about cancer.

I grew up hearing the whispers. My dad’s older sister died from cancer at 44. Years later, his youngest sister got breast cancer. There were lots of whispers and tears and anguish that ended in a funeral. She left behind six children, ages 2 to 14. The youngest had Down syndrome.

Then my dad’s sister Francie got cancer. She died at 58.

Decades passed, then I got diagnosed with breast cancer at 41. While I was going through chemotherapy, two cousins got diagnosed. They were both under 40. Their mother had died of cancer, so they got tested for the gene. We were BRCA positive.

I got the gene from my dad. He and two brothers had it. They all died of cancer, but got to live long lives. Their three sisters didn’t. Cancer robbed them.

I write to save you from the thief that is cancer.

Too many women are afraid to find a lump in their breast, so they don’t do a self-exam. That’s how I found a lump the size of a grape. I’m still alive 17 years later because I found it.

I’m still alive because I had the BRCA test. I’m still alive because I had a double mastectomy.

Unfortunately, I passed the gene on to my daughter. She had a prophylactic double mastectomy at 29.

Sounds scary? It was. It isn’t any more. She’s 37 and very much alive to hug and kiss and tuck her three children into bed every night.

Living without breasts is a whole lot easier than you think. We didn’t get reconstruction; most women do.

Please tell every woman you love to do monthly breast self-exams, get regular mammograms and have a doctor do a breast exam every year.

And if you are an Ashkenazi Jewish woman or have a history of breast cancer in your family, get the BRCA test.

No matter what the results, turn it into a gift.

Because that’s what life is. A gift.


Letters, commentaries and opinions appearing in the Cleveland Jewish News do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Cleveland Jewish Publication Company, its board, officers or staff.

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