On Not Being Thankful

simpsons thanksgiving19

I know what BRCA+ women are supposed to say on Thanksgiving. They’re supposed to say how thankful they are for genetic testing, which allows them to avoid the fates of their mothers, aunts, and grandmothers. They’re thankful to have options that previous generations did not have. They are thankful to avoid chemotherapy and radiation. They’re thankful for the gift of knowledge, because being forewarned is forearmed. They are thankful for their doctors’ attentive care. They are thankful for the wonderful BRCA+ community, which provides unflagging support through the toughest times. They are thankful to be alive and cancer-free.

I cannot bring myself to say these things. Today, as I watch other BRCA+ women post about the things they feel thankful for, I simply feel alienated. Testing positive for a BRCA mutation has undermined my relationships with family, friends, and coworkers. It has interfered with my work. It has destroyed my peace of mind and sense of self. It has stolen all my waking moments and haunted my dreams. It has changed who I am. It has ruined my life. I am not thankful.

Maybe I should be thankful to be alive and cancer-free, but I’m not. The threat of cancer has decimated my quality of life. In the best of times, I am resigned. Most of the time, I am a confounding amalgamation of sad, anxious, angry, frustrated, confused, or miserable. I hope that some day I will find relief. I hope that eventually this BRCA mutation will not define who I am, what I think, and what I do. But for the moment, I refuse to pretend to be okay or to pretend that I am grateful. I know that makes people uncomfortable, but I’ve always preferred hard truths to comforting lies, even if it’s socially awkward.

But in writing this, I realized that there is one group of people that takes me as I am, along with all my angry, sobbing, pissy BRCA+ baggage: my feminist friends. They have been there through every messy twist and turn that has marked my BRCA+ experiences, and they have offered unqualified support every step of the way. Without them, I would be very lost indeed. For them, I am thankful.

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