I never met my great grandmother, Doreen. She died before I was born, a big, happy woman, but troubled with some ill health. My dad's beloved gran, he always speaks so fondly of her - she was Mop, and his eyes shine and he smiles as he mentions her. Mum and Dad have a photograph of Doreen up on the wall. She's young, in her late teens, dressed up in a frilly dress and bloomers, with a bonnet and parasol - and the very strange thing is she looks like me. Even the same expression. How funny that you can look at a picture of someone you never knew and see yourself staring back.
Legacy, likeness, family trees, the past - how these things have whirled around in my head these past two weeks. I look at the picture of Doreen and I wish I could speak to her. We have more in common than our wayward dark curls, brown eyes and smiles (and love of frilly parasols).
Doreen was 34 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. It was 1939. In those days, the treatment for breast cancer was brutal. A radical mastectomy, lymph nodes and muscles out from under the arm and I imagine some horrendous radiation treatment too, although that is conjecture on my part as Dad doesn't know. He remembers her terrible scars though and the fact that she couldn't play the piano due to the pain and constricture of that scarring. I have thought a lot about Doreen since I was diagnosed at 33 - did she feel the same fear that I felt? What was her experience all those years ago? Doreen beat her cancer and carried on with life. She died of something completely unrelated at the age of 68. I have often looked at her photograph and smiled - she was a survivor, she was a talisman.
When you are diagnosed with breast cancer at a relatively young age, it is suggested that you investigate the possibility of a hereditary link, a genetic thread running through the generations. I had my clinical genetics appointment on the 13 January. I knew about my great gran's breast cancer, but she is the only other sufferer apart from me in my entire family. I expected to be told that it was just one of those things, random, just chance - all the things that people have been telling me since that fateful day back in 2007.
The shocking reality for me is that because Doreen had breast cancer at 34 and there are only males in the direct line between me and her (my grandad and my dad), two genetic consultants have put me in the high risk category for having a genetic cause for my breast cancer and I have some stark and difficult choices ahead.
It is possible that I carry either the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, which would increase the risk of my breast cancer recurring and give me an increased risk of ovarian cancer. I can decide not to have the genetic testing and take my chances or have the test and deal with the consequences of a possible positive result.
I don't like uncertainty. I'm going to have the test. I really fear a positive result. It will mean choosing again between screening, touching wood and crossing my fingers, or preventive surgery - a double mastectomy and an oophrectomy (my ovaries removed). At the moment, I'm scared, angry, frightened, consumed once more with the overwhelming headfuck that is breast cancer. I have really had enough. Yes, actually I'm really bloody angry that it's taking me back to hospitals and appointments and uncertainty and worrying. I was slowly getting away from all that.
But then, I know that it's never really going to leave me anyway. This is one more obstacle in the race I never in my wildest dreams thought I'd ever have to run. I did do it once, I can do it again. It is stripping me down to the quick, but I've proved I can get through and smile and live. I am wounded by breast cancer - there's no denying it's left its mark on my mind and my life, but at the same time, what point is there in getting through if I'm going to weep and moan and give up?
So - bear with me. I am going to be a pain in the arse. I am going to cry and sulk and be a hermit. I'm also going to be a normal mother and a vaguely normal librarian. I'm also going to rail and scream and worry and fret.
I might get that negative result - I pray and pray that I do. But I look at that photo of Doreen and her parasol and all I can think at the moment is that we're linked. Her face is my face and her genes just might be too.