Out of the Mouths of Babes
Here is a conversation I had with one of my students yesterday:
(Necessary background information: she left early last week — visibly shaken and upset — because she went to go with her cousin who, at 25, was getting the results back from her breast biopsy. My student’s aunt, her cousin’s mother, had died at 35 from breast cancer.)
Me: “How is everything with your family? Did your cousin get her test results back?”
Student: “Yeah, yeah, she did. She has stage IV breast cancer that has metastasized to her spine and lymph nodes.”
Me: “Fuck. Oh, I am so sorry. How is she coping with the diagnosis?”
Student: “Well, she and her sister were both being screened every 6 months for breast cancer, and this was a lump she found on her own between mammograms. She always knew this might be a reality, but she did not expect it at 25.”
Me: “I don’t think anyone expects it at 25.”
Then I proceed to tell her about one of my high-school friends whose mom lived for 7+ years with stage IV breast cancer. We talked about chemo, radiation, etc… , and how medicines that can save your life can have very unpleasant side effects. I told her my friend, who was only three years older than I at 35, was thinking of having children, but she was not sure if she wanted to potentially pass the cancer gene that had killed both her mother and grandmother on to a daughter. If she adopts instead, she is seriously considering having a radical mastectomy, just to abate the risk.
Student: “Wow, that is really bad.”
Me: “Having a mastectomy before even having a cancer diagnosis? Well, I think it will give her peace of mind and she is planning to have reconstructive surgery. It must be so hard to even have to think like that.”
Student: “No, I meant having a baby after 35. They are usually born with Down Syndrome. It’s just not a smart thing to do.”
I thought of launching into a complex explanation of the hows and whys of chromosomal abnormalities, how these relate to the age of the mother, etc … , but I was just too tired, and, frankly, I just did not want to lecture this poor kid.
I am sure when you are in your early twenties, thirty-five seems very, very far away.