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I'm afraid of taking a cancer test. Help!

June 28, 2013, at 9:05 AM
 

Dear Starshine,

I have a family history of ovarian cancer, and my physician recently offered to do a blood test to determine if I have the marker (CA-125) found in ovarian cancer cells. I declined. Although it would certainly be a relief if I didn't have the marker, what would I do if I did? Wait while my anxiety soaked my ovaries in a cancer bath? Or am I being irresponsible?

When family history puts you at high risk of developing cancer, you can go one of two ways: Tell yourself that you refuse to live in fear while you're secretly living in fear, or go all Angelina Jolie on its ass.

Jolie, whose mother and aunt both died young of cancer, said she underwent her recent double mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer from 87 percent to five percent. Some celebs tweeted that she was brave to do it. Interestingly, breast cancer survivor Melissa Etheridge called Jolie's decision "fearful."

Terror and courage aren't mutually exclusive, though. In fact, what good would bravery be without fear?

I trust you've done the requisite Googling on this, as I now have. I'm sure you know that this blood test isn't widely recommended because it can yield false positives that freak everyone out unnecessarily — and even false negatives, which make it a pretty lousy test.

But it's still the best predictor of ovarian cancer, and it is recommended for women with a family history of the disease. That's because — and here's why you should be proactive — ovarian cancer is hard to catch in its early stages. Routine pelvic exams and Pap tests won't detect it until it's further along than you'd want it to be for a great prognosis.

Can you learn from how the other women in your family discovered the disease? Do you have other people — say, kids or a spouse — whose interests you should consider when deciding your approach?

It's your life, they're your ovaries, and you may very well never get cancer. Let's both say that again, aloud: You may very well never get cancer. But if you don't, it won't be because you ignored the possibility.

You fear that if the marker shows up, you'll make yourself sick with worry — but you're already worried. (Relaxed people tend not to write into advice columnists or type the phrase "soaked my ovaries in a cancer bath.")

Trust me when I tell you I've never quoted Angelina Jolie in my life, I'm unlikely to do so ever again, and I don't know what I would have done in her situation. But something she wrote about her decision struck me as wise, and I hope you'll think about it:

Life comes with many challenges. The ones that should not scare us are the ones we can take on and take control of.


***

Dear Starshine,

I've been with my boyfriend for a year and a half. We started dating and moved in together when I was 17. I finished high school and some college, but six months ago I ran out of money, and he was laid off from work. My parents recently offered me not only full tuition but also a car if I break up with him and move in with them, which my boyfriend said was "selfish to even think about." Our breakup has been a long time coming, but… do I simply pack my things and say "peace out"? Despite the fact that my best interests are in mind (I've got almost no chance of getting back into school while being in a relationship with him), he and I have an attachment and I don't let go of those easily. But I also know that being on the fast train out is better than making plans to leave and never doing so. What do I do?

Do I have this right? You move in with your boyfriend before you're even old enough to open a bank account in your own name. You blame him for your own failure to return to school. You need to be bribed in order to extricate yourself from a relationship that you believe is not in your best interest. You feel the car is worth mentioning here. And you fully admit that you might "make plans to leave" him but never follow through.

If your parents are offering you full tuition to junior high, then I really think you should take it. But college? Oh, sweetie, no. You have too many other things to learn first. Starting with these:

People don't run out of money; they fail to budget. Attachments aren't supposed to be easy to let go of; that's why they call them "attachments." And good decisions aren't made based on how easily they are achieved.

Be smart. Move out. Grow up. And don't take any money for doing it.

Send me your dilemmas via email: ToughLove@TheWeek.com. And follow me on Twitter: @ToughLoveAdvice.

 

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