By Melanie Lynn Penn
My BRCA journey officially began in late 2012. After years of already knowing in my heart how testing would turn out, I got a phone call during the aftermath of Hurricane Sandy confirming for me my results were positive. Fast forward through five years of screening and scares and a lot of misinformation and missing information. A lot of things were glazed over and the internet was horrifying, so I stayed off of it. I only spoke to my parents, now husband and a few select friends, keeping this all bottled in as every round of screening and every biopsy threw me into a month-long unstable pit of anxiety.
In November of 2017, I met with a new breast surgeon. The misinformation was over. I remember feeling so nauseous I was worried I would be sick all over her. I left that appointment terrified but ready to move forward with surgery. I told my husband that night, he has been from the very beginning the most supportive human ever every step of the way. It wasn't enough. I needed to see other women, on the other side, who were fine. I typed "#BRCA" into the Instagram search bar and my life changed forever.
For the first time in my life, I wasn't alone in my thoughts and fears. I feel that through these women, I have learned more than I have through all of the doctors I saw in the past years. I felt stronger. These women helped me into a position where I could advocate for myself and make decisions that were right for MY body and MY life.
I wanted to do something to thank all the amazing women who pulled me through and I turned to my art, as usual, to release all of these feelings. The first four "word women" I drew were based on three close friends and my mother. They were visual thank yous for the strength they had given me. Every drawing I did I learned more about myself and my own journey. Even as I tried to do something for others, I continued to find my own healing through it.
On a whim, I reached out in a post asking if other women would want to share their stories. To say I was overwhelmed by the response I got would be the understatement of the century. I have, to date, shared almost one hundred "word portraits" and their accompanying mini-biographies. I continue to draw light into the darkest parts of myself with each one.
It is my hope that this work is also helping to heal others within the community. I hope that other women read these portraits and realize that even when we are on very different trajectories we can still share common ground. It remains my greatest honor to be trusted with the stories of so many, and I hope others learn that they can find healing from both outside and in, as well.