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Travel helps process breast cancer diagnosis

By Jessica Zucker

Last spring, I was slapped with a life-altering diagnosis: stage 2B invasive lobular carcinoma. A suspicious lump was discovered at my routine mammogram, and right then and there, my world turned upside down..

But it was not just my initial diagnosis I was forced to process. Genetic testing also needed to take place and within days, mu test came back positive for the CHEK2 gene mutation, one that has not yet been heavily researched. The news catapulted me into a galaxy of unanswerable “what ifs,” both about my own mortality and that of my children. CHEK2 is linked with other forms of cancer too, meaning I not only grew gravely concerned about the quality and longevity of my life, but was sucker punched by the ways it could impact my offspring.

After a string of sonograms, biopsies, and multiple MRIs, it was clear that a bilateral mastectomy was the prudent next step. As I geared up for surgery, I wanted to carve out time to do something meaningful with my two children, an enriching experience with each of them before being out of commission—before they saw their mother lose her breasts, her usual joie de vivre, and perhaps most importantly to them, her ability to cuddle up close and hug tightly for a while.

I took my 12-year-old son to Knott’s Berry Farm—and suffice it to say, the roller coasters were a perfect prelude to and metaphor for the intense, sometimes nauseating emotional ups and downs that accompany the long haul that is cancer. But with the gnawing fear that my seven-year-old daughter could one day be faced with an identical diagnosis, I wanted to take her somewhere serene and reflective.

I booked a three-day getaway to Laguna Beach, just the two of us. A little over an hour drive from our Hollywood Hills home, it seemed manageable amid the pandemic, even in my topsy turvy pre-surgery state of mind. I was confident she’d have a blast constructing sand castles and splashing about in the ocean, and that I could sit back and watch her in wonderment as I mulled over how this diagnosis might affect motherhood, not to mention all other facets of my newly changed life.

We spent hours scootering along the boardwalk, exploring secluded coves while skipping rocks and examining seashells, and marveled that we could hear the waves crashing from the balcony of our hotel room. We spoke so deeply with one another, as we took walks at sunset and played countless rounds of cards by the fire pit, that there were moments when I forgot I was traveling with a first grader. It felt like I was lying on the beach with my oldest friend. Leaving the COVID-induced monotony of our life in Laurel Canyon, even for a few days, infused me with the energy and fortitude needed to endure surgery and the subsequent treatments.

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