Postcards of Grief

Mourning is a process.

Comments on breast cancer by proxy, written by a woman coping with the loss of her mother.

Friday, March 19, 2004

Oh, baby, just call me (when you need a friend)

I called the adoption agency Wednesday. My officemate left for a meeting in another building and said she wouldn’t be back for an hour and a half. I thought about calling, realizing that it was my first chance to call when I had the information handy, had my cell phone, it was during business hours, and so on. And I thought about it and considered putting it off, but the more time that passed, the more nervous I was about it, and I knew that I would drive myself crazy if I didn’t just call. So I did.

I spoke with a kind woman, Ms. N, who answered her phone asking how she could help me, and I choked out, “Uh, well, I don’t even know if you can.” I told her that my mother had a child who was adopted through their agency, and that my mother died recently from “genetic breast cancer.” I tripped over my words and blanked when she asked what the difference was between that and other breast cancers. The difference is that some cancers are hereditary. Only 8% of breast cancers can be linked to the two genes which have been identified (BRCA-1 and BRCA-2), but there are others which have a suspected hereditary basis and haven’t been identified. Her father’s prostate cancer in conjunction with hers indicates a hereditary susceptibility to hormone receptive cancers. But all I told her is that hers was so aggressive that it’s presumed genetic.

(For the sake of accuracy, I have to include a disclaimer that there is a significant difference between hereditary and genetic. The opposite of hereditary is spontaneous or congenital—that is, it wasn’t passed down. Genetic refers to the goings on in genes, can be artificial/environmental (radiation, pollution), congenital (spontaneously inborn), or hereditary. All cancers are genetic because they’re caused by gene mutations, but in the vernacular, genetic tends to mean hereditary.)

She thanked me for calling to offer the adoptee this information, and she asked some questions about Mom, both with regard to her contact with the agency and to her disease. She asked if I wanted to give her my number so that they could contact me if she wanted to contact me, and I hemmed and hawed. She said they can't give her my or Mom's identifying information without written permission, so I said yes. Good thing, because she called yesterday morning to say that they didn’t have a file on Mom.

My heart sank, and I started to panic. I could have sworn she told me it was that agency in that city. It was a name that was easy to remember. Oh, God. Oh, good God. But, it seems that two of the letters were transposed (probably my fault), and she called back to say that the file was there. And now I wait until she finds the adoptee (if she can), then she calls me to let me know that information was communicated to her. It could be several months or a year. If she tells me the adoptee wants to get in touch with me, then I have some hard decisions to make.


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