By Carol A. Turni
That third week in August 2011 is one I will never forget. That's when I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was 44 years old with no family history of cancer. It seemed like I was on a bad news train. Not only did I have breast cancer, but it was caused by a BRCA 2 genetic mutation, which extended my breast cancer treatment course drastically. I was married with two young girls, 5 and 7 years old at the time. My world changed so drastically that I am not sure you can put it into words.
My family and friends were all very supportive. However, one piece was missing: my older brother, whom I had not spoken to in more than seven years.
An unexpected call from my brother
The details of our disagreement had long faded, but there was no communication and a painful feeling of loss. Shortly after my breast cancer diagnosis, though, the phone rang.
"Hi, kid," he said. "I cannot believe what has happened, and I am so sorry you have to go through all of this."
And there he was. That call was the start, and from there we began to put the pieces together. In the midst of my breast cancer treatment, none of the details about what had happened many years earlier seemed to matter. He had made his way back to me, and I needed him in my life.
Seeking breast cancer treatment at MD Anderson
While we were growing up, my brother was in many ways my protector. We shared a bond of growing up in the same very dysfunctional household, and still today we both struggle with sharing emotions. However, in my battle with cancer, he has been both loving and supportive.
Before beginning my breast cancer treatment, I tried to decide if I should seek out a second opinion. I spoke with my husband, who was very supportive in general and of me seeking a second opinion at MD Anderson. My brother also felt that was the right thing to do.
I scheduled an appointment with Vicente Valero, M.D., in December 2011. That appointment and the resulting change in my breast cancer treatment course saved my life.
My brother mentioned that he wanted to join me on one of my numerous trips to MD Anderson, and I was very touched by this.
During a three-day visit, he was with me every step of the way, through each appointment and treatment. He listened, observed and let me know he cared.
I will never forget my appointment with Dr. Valero during that visit. My brother looked at Dr. Valero and asked, "My sister is going to be OK, isn't she?"
Dr. Valero responded, "Your sister has a very serious illness, but her chances are good."
It was not exactly what he wanted to hear, but it was the truth. I could see the fear in his eyes, but I could see love, too.
After my appointments that day, we walked outside of Mays Clinic and he said, "Kid, if this doesn't teach you to live life now, I don't know what will."
Living each day to the fullest
Now that I've been in remission for a year, my brother and I are enjoying each other's company. It is wonderful, and I am so happy to have gotten to see our families become closer. I've loved getting to know my sister-in-law, and my brother and my husband have become friends. Our children adore each other.
Good things can come out of even the most difficult challenges. Right now, I do not have cancer and try to live each day to its fullest. And for me, the fullest includes having my brother in my life.