Joyce Wadler’s books, “My Breast” and “Cured,” detail her experiences with breast and then ovarian cancer.
With her initial cancer, at age 43, she didn’t know she carried a BRCA mutation. At that time, in 1991, BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes had not yet even been identified. By the time she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer 4 years later and went through surgery and chemotherapy, the discoveries had been made and she was tested. And sure enough, she was positive for a BRCA1 mutation.
These books are well worth reading, whether or not you are personally affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Ms. Wadler is a talented writer, having been on staff at the Wall Street Journal for many years, and tells her story with wit and even humor (referring to herself as the Middle-Aged Mutant Jewish Writer, for example.)
Those of us with BRCA mutations each have our own individual story of how our life has been affected by this genetic error, played out in illness or by the knowledge that we harbor it. Each story is specific and different, but certain echoes of commonality remain. Ms. Wadler’s story is her own and very different from mine, but I found several parallels and connections.
She got breast and then ovarian cancer, as did my mother. Ms. Wadler was 47 when she got ovarian cancer and thereafter discovered that she carried a BRCA1 mutation. I was 47 when my mom got ovarian cancer and we subsequently learned that she and I both have a BRCA2 mutation. Ms. Wadler has one of the three most common mutations found in persons of Ashkenazi Jewish background, also know as founder’s mutations. We have a different mutation, but also one of those three.
Some aspects of these books are rooted in the particular time in which they occur. As she writes in “Cured,” “Things always change in Cancer Land.” Medical knowledge and practice have changed and progressed since these events occurred, so some of the details are no longer current. The common practice of using the internet to research medical issues, for example, would have simplified much of her experience. But these two volumes are not just of historic interest. They are fresh and compelling and (despite the darkness) funny.
Neither book is completely easy to read (though both are short) in that she details her treatment and her resulting physical and emotional traumas. But the title of the second book, initially published as a serial in New York Magazine in 1997, gives well-deserved hope – you know she will likely be okay in the end. And she still is. I quickly googled her and she is still alive. 18 years after her ovarian cancer diagnosis and 22 after her breast cancer diagnosis.
Joyce Wadler’s BRCA+ story is her own. I am glad she chose to share it with us in these two memoirs and highly recommend them.