I’m not what you call a “pretty crier.”
I’m no cute thang who can dab the corner of a white, pressed, neatly folded handkerchief gently along the half crescent below my eye lid; I don’t sniff gently into the folded piece that falls gracefully over my index finger, and turn the corner of my mouth into a tiny, yet visible, irk of a smile. My eyes don’t glisten with the dew of renewed emotion nor do I send down a kind, rolling tear to fall along the curve of my cheek.
I am an ugly crier.
Eyes get swollen shut, my face turns the color of beet juice, snot mixes in with tears — both of which I end up wiping on my sleeve, and I sound like a wild snorting boar who just drank a liter of soda — alternating the deep ugly bass of muffled mucus with high pitched hiccups of too much air.
It ain’t pretty.
But, neither is the reason why I was crying tonight. I thought I was long past the emotional turmoil of talking about, hearing about, and speaking about being BRCA positive. After a two year hiatus, I once again screened the film “In the Family” by Joanna Rudnick. The film is like a religious text to the BRCA community — it shows the pain, vulnerability, and journey of women who have been diagnosed with the BRCA gene. Since it’s release, women in the film have died, and one of the breast cancer doctors, featured as a medical expert in the film, was diagnosed with cancer.
I was so excited to show the film this year — a way to celebrate my 1-year anniversary since my mastectomy. Though my scars, muscle tension, and bulging keloids (raised scar tissue) due to a drain infection remind me of my surgery every single day, I haven’t thought much about breast cancer since I reduced my risk from 90% to 1%. Though the pink and teal tattoo on my left wrist reminds me of being BRCA, I haven’t thought much about my 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer.
The moment the film started, I felt my skin crawl. I felt my stomach turn. I wanted to run out of the room.
I grabbed my doctoral textbook — a thick research textbook on the public policies of early community colleges — and found an empty classroom where I could tune out of being BRCA. But, instead of diving into student retention rates, curriculum, and access to college studies, I pulled up my sister Grace’s blog on my iphone. My fingers began swiping across the screen. Select. Click. Scroll. Select. Click. Scroll. December 2007.
I read the entries my sister wrote just days before her own mastectomy. I read the entries I wrote for her while she was doped up on Vicodin and laying in her hospital bed. I clicked on photos of me and my sisters from four years ago, never imagining, when those photos were taken, that we would all have the same prosthetic, silicone breasts surgically implanted into our chests.
I am also reminded that we have the same, natural, living ovaries in our own bodies.
My sisters and I have not had our oopherectomies.
We have not chosen to save our lives by removing the tiny organs that could kill us.
I still hold a ticking time bomb. And so do they.
I waited as long as I could before entering back into the room where the film was being shown. When I thought it was close to the end, I clutched my textbook, quietly opened the door so as not to disturb the audience, and slid myself into the chair closest to the door.
I looked up, and realized I came in too soon.
On the screen was the funeral. It was the funeral of Linda Pedraza, a Boston mother who died of ovarian cancer. My sister, Grace, met Linda while she was still fighting; and after her death, Grace was the recipient of the Linda Pedraza scholarship.
I came in too early.
I wanted to run out of the room.
I buried myself into the rest of the textbook, only consumed with the idea that — without surgery — it could be my funeral from ovarian cancer; maybe my sister; maybe my other sister; maybe my many cousins who are also BRCA positive. And, God help me, one of my children who could carry the BRCA gene.
There is no crying pretty. Crying reminds us that life is real, that pain is real, and that we are real.
If water is the source of life; tears are our connection to life. Tears cleanses us; tears wash us; tears remind us that the most basic requirement for survival is within us.
So, I say … cry often.
Live pretty well, love pretty well, and for goodness sake, cry pretty well, too.
Peace, love, and seek renewal every day,