I have always been a spiritual being. I believe in a higher power, however, I never gave it a face. Therefore, I am not a Jew – Christian – Muslim – Buddhist – or any other specific denomination, nor am I an agnostic. I do not fall into these individual categories. Yet I am a faithful human being -- a tiny part of the Universe that surrounds us. I am Love.
I do not gossip. I do not commit anger against myself or others. I prefer to step aside from confrontation, unless it is against me or my family. I believe in human rights, especially the right to live in peace.
But do not think that I am Vanilla. I face adversity in my own way. So it was, after a routine mammogram, I received news that every woman fears. The results were clear. My Internist said, “I have bad news and good news.”
I braced myself for the worse.
“The bad news is you have breast cancer in your left breast.”
“What’s the good news?”
“You’re very lucky.” I’d never heard the words “lucky and cancer” spoken in the same sentence. He added, “Your cancer is very small and we caught it early.”
Oh, lucky me! I immediately flashed to my mother’s death; she died of breast cancer at the age of 65; I was now 71. Dazed, my husband and I left the Internist’s office awaiting a referral to a surgical oncologist. Terror, damp fear, and angst gripped me like the fierce hug of a Grizzly; any moment now I would be torn apart by eight-inch claws.
I knew women who had survived breast cancer, yet I could not contact them. I was afraid to hear their details; I did not want to be swayed by another’s experience. I detached myself from them and isolated myself from the people around me, and like Hester Prynne, I wore the scarlet letter “C.”
I spoke about my feelings with only my husband, daughter, and several very close friends. Yet a friend of a friend called me, regaling me with a cancer tale of horror. I cut her off; I would hear none of it.
I knew I was psychologically paralyzed, but to move forward, I chose meditation and visualization, a life-affirming means to help me cope. I created a meditation “room” on my little front porch. I visualized myself healthy and cancer free, while repeating the following:
“I am one with the Universe; my life is health, abundance, and love. The path I am on is what it must be; it is a perfect path.”
My oncologist, Dr. Janet Ihde, was warm, understanding, and direct. She explained my cancer required a lumpectomy (the surgical removal of the small tumor and the area of surrounding tissue). However, after learning about my mother’s breast cancer, plus the fact that I am an Ashkenazi Jew (of European heritage) the question of the BRCA gene arose. One out of four Ashkenazi women inherits the gene, which amplifies the chance of breast cancer, and requires a bilateral mastectomy, the removal of both my breasts. It also carried an even deadlier possibility: I might pass the gene on to my daughter and granddaughter. A lethal gift that keeps on giving.
Abysmal feelings of guilt shrouded me, like a plague-infested blanket. When I called my daughter who lived in another state, explaining the situation, both of us cried. I kept repeating, “I’m so sorry,” as though I had already infected her.
Two days later, my insurance company denied the BRCA gene test. After hours of life-affirming meditations and visualations, I soldiered up and called my insurance company, asking for a Patient Advocate. I had, up to then, never interfered with the insurance carrier’s “last word.” But, not now. I would allow no negative interference. When the Advocate answered, I forced myself to remain calm; hysterics would not do. As I described my family history, and the need for the test, I mentally repeated my mantra. Immediately, the advocate asked for my oncologist’s fax number. “Don’t worry, Mrs. Gewelber, I have just reversed the decision. I am now faxing over your approval.” Just like that!
This was the first time I felt in control in weeks. Happily, I walked into the Comprehensive Cancer Center the next day and took the blood test. Leaving the center, I repeated my mantra and saw myself void of the BRCA gene. Yet, as you can imagine, four very anxious days passed while awaiting the outcome. My meditations and visualizations were on overdrive. I did not veer from my life-affirming thoughts. At last, I received the call.
I did not carry the gene!