A Rich Family History

Sarah Rose

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.]

Photo byPexels

"Mammograms should be called mammygrams," I thought to myself as I sat in the waiting room at the Providence Women's Health Center. I put my appointment in my calendar as just that, mammygram, before realizing the loaded connotation of the word mammy and quickly editing myself. The word "mammy" is used to mean "mother" in Whales and Ireland, but we are not in Whales or Ireland. A mammy in America is a stereotyped black woman who worked for a white family and probably raised their children. In defense of my errant thought process, the Women's Health Center was exceedingly motherly, filled with older women who kindly instructed me to fill out this form, wait here, undress here, remove your underarm antiperspirant, wait here again.

The center was painted pale pink with large plush couches. There was a meditation room off to one side, presumably for women facing serious health concerns. There were Dove chocolates and calming instrumental music, and neat pink gowns that opened in the front. I was only there for a routine mammogram. It was my first mammogram, because I'm 30 now, with a rich family history of cancer.

Having a rich family history is usually a good thing. A rich family history of attending Harvard, say, or of working in the family real estate business, or of healthy procreation. Some families have rich histories of wealth and prosperity. Some families have rich histories of racial oppression or alcoholism or cancer. All of us never asked to be here or deal with any of it.

My family has an assortment of histories and tangible or intangible riches, but today I'm writing about cancer because I just had my breasts smashed between plastic for the first of many times. My maternal grandmother passed away from breast cancer. Many of her siblings fought cancer as well. They were not wealthy and treatment was not very sophisticated. The chasm between my doctor's office and their medical experience feels so wide that I can barely see the other side. I would imagine that most parents hope that their children have a better life than they did, better being the crucial word in that sentence. But I couldn't help but look backward a few generations and consider how far this has all come. I have a good job with good health insurance that covers precautionary treatments like yearly mammograms and pap smears. I don't have to wait until I'm incredibly sick to access treatment, and today's large machines worth hundreds of thousands of dollars can trace any abnormality with incredible precision.

My mother and her sisters have all had various breast or ovarian cancers as well. My mother's story is not mine to tell, but I was in high school when cancer was detected in her fallopian tubes, one of the rarest forms of ovarian cancer. I didn't know this at the time, but her cancer has a very high recovery rate; over 90% when detected before spreading outside the ovaries or tubes. But we didn't know if it had spread at first, and there is no doctor or research paper on this planet that can remove the fear that is inherent in a rich family history. It was impossible to watch my mother in her sickness and not think of her mother, too, who never made it out of the darkness.

I imagine that this is how most generational traumas feel; why a black woman might detest the word "mammy" or grow rigid and cautious around police officers. When you love someone who has suffered and when you are physically close to that suffering, you can't help but wonder if maybe, your own story might run in parallel. I am not traumatized by the knowledge that I may have some sort of genetic predisposition, but I do get emotional filling out my family history on intake forms, writing name after name, cancer after cancer, starting with those furthest away in time and ending with the closest person to me; my mother.

The woman at the check-in counter smiled at me, "You're just a baby! Family history?" and I nodded. A rich one.

"This is just precautionary," she chirped, "are you nervous?" I shook my head, and she looked down at my chart at the list of family members I'd listed and their respective illnesses. I don't know all the people in my bloodline, and even though the sheet was full, I felt like I may have missed something.

She noticed me fidgeting and leaned forward a bit, "You'll be fine," she reassured me, "this doesn't mean anything." For a minute, I thought she may be right. I'm healthy and fit. I take good care of my body and try to take good care of my brain. But in my heart, I knew she was wrong. Family history can't mean nothing. Family history is the soil my roots are planted in. There are a thousand things that have helped me grow but I couldn't grow at all if not for my roots.

When I left, I was given a packet of information about genetic testing and a validation for parking that still required me to pay one dollar. As I drove home, I thought about how much money the hospital makes from all the people who pay a dollar to park as they have their bodies poked and prodded and tested and treated. Millions a year, I figured. When I got home, I added "mammogram" as a recurring event in my calendar so next May, I won't forget.

P.S. Download the Know Your Lemons app to learn how to do a self breast exam, read more about the survival rates for breast cancer and the importance of early detection here, or brush up on the basics of ovarian cancer here.


Sarah Rose

This is original content from NewsBreak’s Creator Program. Join today to publish and share your own content.

Comments / 1

Published by

Blogger | Poet | Freelancer | Ultra Runner Blog: The Prosiest IG: @mcmountain Email: sarahrose.writer@gmail.com

Dana Point, CA

More from Sarah Rose

Keeping The Promises You Make to Yourself

[Listen to an audio version of this blog here.] “Speak clearly, if you speak at all; carve every word before you let it fall.” -Oliver Wendell Holmes Today I'm writing about confidence, the polar opposite of desperation and wise older sibling to cockiness. If you close your eyes right now, I'm sure you can picture someone you know who is cocky and doesn't that just irk you? Confidence is something to be earned while cockiness is a symptom. One is showy, the other is self-assured. One is overstated and inauthentic and the other is poised. I believe that the best way to increase confidence is to consistently keep the promises you make to yourself. You can't grow self-assured about anything until you have proven your own competency to yourself, and you can't grow competent until you show up. I've known many people who make promises they never keep. Whether it's a friend making a plan they never intend to follow through on, a business not returning your phone call, or a workplace not fulfilling their end of a compensation plan, we all know what it's like to encounter flakey, inconsistent people. You probably don't like or respect them very much, right? It's hard to trust someone who doesn't show that they're trustworthy, which is why confidence comes from trusting yourself. When I was in school, I got straight A's, and not because I was that smart. I studied hard and told myself that I would do the absolute best that I could. Once I understood that I could achieve straight A's, that was the standard I held myself to. Once I knew what I was capable of, anything less was unacceptable. It's important to point out that nobody else would have been disappointed with a B. Nobody can ever be as disappointed with me as I can be because nobody else cares as much. If you let other people dictate what success means, you'll always end up disappointed. When I'm training for a race (my next race is the Kodiak 100, in Big Bear, CA), I have to put in a lot of miles and a fair amount of time in the gym. Some mornings, the last thing I want to do is wake up and go for a run, and hit the snooze button more than once. Some days, I don't feel the least bit inspired to train, but I do anyway. I don't know much but I do know that putting in consistent work is one of the best ways to see positive results. You'll beat out many people simply by not quitting, by paying attention, and adjusting when things don't quite work. The worst thing you can do though, is bite off more than you can chew. Start with something small, even if it's setting an alarm earlier than you're used to (and not hitting snooze). Your promise to yourself could be as small as making your bed every morning to something as large as reaching out to five new people every day to build a business. Stephanie Barros from Igniting Your Spark outlines the following ways to keep the promises you make to you: 1. Make reasonable promises to yourself. If you've fallen short of a particular goal in the past, adjust it to make it more manageable, then build from there. 2. Put your promises on paper. Thoughts aren't solid, and they're easier to ignore than something you've written down and look at every day. Nothing is as solid as words on a page. 3. Do you mean it? The reason many promises fall through is that we never meant them in the first place. I personally don't see the point in making a promise you don't intend to keep, so be brutally honest with yourself about whether or not you plan to even try to keep them. 4. Change how you think about you. It seems universally true that we're nicer to others than we are to ourselves, and we're more afraid to let others down than we are to let ourselves down. It should be just as unacceptable to let yourself down as it is to let down other people. 5. Accept discomfort. Change is uncomfortable, no matter how big or small, and keeping the promises you make to yourself might seem uncomfortable, too. Nobody ever succeeded by sitting quietly in their comfort, after all. "A dream is a vision, a goal is a promise. You can keep your promises to yourself by remaining flexible, focused, and committed." `~ Denis Waitley xoxo Sarah Rose.

Read full story

Comments / 0