My Sunny Side

My Early Christmas Present

I know a lot of people are saying that 2016 has been a bad year and they can’t wait for it to be over, but I still believe there are things to be grateful for. No matter how hard it gets, there is always a little bright light left.

I saw a little bit of that light a few days ago. Actually, it was a blindingly bright light that just changed the trajectory of my life.

Let me start from the beginning. Unfortunately, I come from a family where cancer has liked to claim a stake. My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 35 (she’s alive and well today), my aunt was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 55 (she’s alive and well, too) and my grandma was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her early 60’s (she has since passed on but she lived to be 91 years old). So as you can tell from that paragraph, we’ve had lucky breaks from unlucky circumstances.

With my Grandma Farr the night I won Miss Teen California back in 2006.

With my Grandma Farr the night I won Miss Teen California back in 2006.

I was two years old when my mom was diagnosed with cancer so I have grown up having some understanding of what this disease entails. While I don’t remember my mom going through chemo or having surgeries, there were still ripples of her illness all throughout my childhood that served as reminders of what she went through.

Mom and me on a recent trip to Mammoth this past summer.

Mom and me on a recent trip to Mammoth this past summer.

As time went on, our family decided to get tested for the BRCA I and II genes. All of the diagnoses seemed like more than just coincidence. My grandma, aunt, and mom were tested at UCLA about ten years ago and they all had the same variance on the BRCA II gene. At the time the researchers said it was inconclusive. Not enough information to say one way or the other. It could just be chance.

Flash forward ten years. I am now 25. Growing up with all of this information, it has always been important to me to equip myself with as much knowledge as possible. I know that some people hesitate to find out this information about their genetic make-up (and that is a personal decision), but I know that I needed to do the testing for myself. I think back to my mom surviving stage III cancer with a two year old at home and I immediately knew that I want to be as preventative as possible.

So, a few weeks ago, my mom and I went back for testing at UCLA. I cried the morning of the testing but when I saw my mom, we kept it light. I think we both secretly knew how intense this day could be but we decided to stay positive. When you sit in the heaviness of what could be, it’s just too much. We made a mother-daughter day of it and went out for lunch and shopping afterward.

But at the testing, I felt that much more nervous when our genetic counselor told us that the variance that my mom, grandma, and aunt has is actually 95% likely to be pathogenic. The research in the past 10 years has taken those originally inconclusive results and reframed them as mutative agents that are much more likely to lead to cancer than in the average person. Okay, good to know.

So you can imagine how I felt when I answered the phone on Wednesday and my genetic counselor was on the other line. Words, words, words…just tell me what I want to know.

“Your test results came back negative. You do NOT have the pathogenic genes.”

There is that blinding, bright light I am talking about. I had prepared myself to hear the worst—to start thinking about prophylactic surgeries and hormone therapies someday. I had not prepared myself for the news that I do not have the same gene as my mom, grandma, and aunt. In so many ways I have wanted to be like my mom but in this sense, I am glad we are different. I can also say this knowing that my mom has taken every preventative measure possible so I can breathe a sigh of relief.

This news is definitely my Christmas present this year. Telling my mom the good news and seeing the shock and then tears come over her face was one of the best moments I have had in my life. Our prayers have been answered and I could see in that minute that my mom was even more relieved than I was. My dad and grandma were just as excited. I know it’s all just chance, but I feel like I have won the lottery.

Just because you get genetic testing, and the results come back negative, it does not mean you are immune. I know that. I will still take preventative steps and get mammograms when I turn 30. These results should not and will not breed ignorance. But they do bring me some peace. That is something I am grateful for.

If something runs in your family, I’d encourage you to consider genetic testing like our family did. No matter how the results come out, the knowledge is empowering. It does not determine the decisions you make, but it certainly informs them.

Hug your family and friends a little tighter in these last few days of 2016. There are still bright lights all around you.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

A Story You Need to Hear

Well, it’s been quite a week—I have to comment on it. Last week didn’t start off so great, but once again I am reminded of how much more GOOD there is in the world than bad. My heart is just so warmed by this story that I can’t keep it to myself.

So our tale begins with an innocent trip to none other than Black Angus in Burbank. Real wild place. I was getting dinner with my boyfriend’s family and had a nice time catching up. Mind you, we were all particularly excited because we just got a new (used) Honda Civic. After driving a (gold) Toyota Corrolla for over ten years, I was more than ecstatic to get a new car. I had been pining for one for quite a while and was just over the moon about this new (silver) car.

So you can imagine my horror when we walked back to the parking lot and saw the glass shattered on the back passenger window. It took me a second to realize what had happened…and then after I saw the window jiggled open I knew. At first I didn’t think anything had been stolen and then I remembered. I had a testing kit, called the WISC, right in that spot. Now if you’re interested in child assessment, you would know that this test kit costs a pretty penny—over a thousand dollars to be exact. But to a thief, I can only imagine the disappointment they had when they opened the briefcase only to find blocks and children’s pictures. Almost as disappointed as me.

So the next day, with a heavy sigh, we took the car to the dealership to have the window and door fixed. $800, please. And then I went to the testing center at Pepperdine. Sorry for what happened to you, but you still owe $500. Even bigger sigh. With a big tuition bill coming up, I went numb in my seat.

And then the story changed.

Some of my classmates found out about my plight. So many of them checked in with me and said they were sorry about what happened to me. That would have been enough. But then, after I returned from my trip to State College, Pennsylvania, a classmate came up to me and handed me an envelope. In it was a card filled with kind words from all of my classmates AND almost $300 to help me pay for the WISC kit. All a surprise to me, they pooled together to help me out, just like that.

WOW.

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced that degree of generosity. I was floored. The amount of love and compassion sent my way was just beyond. For feeling so sad about what happened, I felt a hundred times more gratitude and hope for our world. There are such good people out there, and I’m lucky enough to have some of them in my life. Mind you, we’ve known each other for just about three months and they looked out for me. It’s comforting to know that they all have the ambition to be psychologists someday—can you define a more empathetic and understanding group of humans?

I just felt like this amount of goodness was too good to keep to myself. Stories like these should be shared. I am inspired to give when I can and take part in those acts of kindness whenever I can. My classmates showed me what true thoughtfulness is…incredible.

Can we put them on the Ellen show now?

With the holidays approaching, I hope that only wonderful things come your way. And if you have a bit of bad luck like I did, I hope there is someone who is willing to offer love and hope to remind you that there is still much more good than bad in our world.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook

An Update this Fall

Hello friends!

It’s good to get back to writing on the blog. I thought this would be a good time for an update. On September 7, 2016, I started my doctoral studies in Clinical Psychology at Pepperdine University. In these two (long) months, I have been challenged in so many new ways and stretched beyond what I was imagining. I call this program Brain Bootcamp because it has been nothing but studying, reading, and writing day in, day out.

But I am so glad that I going through with this. I have had days of doubt when I have wanted to give up. I have almost talked myself out of going the distance. This program will be four years, a good bit of money, and will take the majority of my time. Sacrifices have and will be made. No one said this would be easy.

But I know in the end that it will be so worth it. I am so amazed by my classmates and by the professors that are leading us. I love my classes—especially my cognitive assessment class. So many new possibilities are emerging and I am so eager to see where these next few years take me.

I also had an incredible thing happen in the past month. I got my very first Siamese kitten! To be exact he is a Chocolate Point, short-haired, Applehead, Siamese kitten. Now that’s specific. His name is Mochi and he was born August 9, 2016. I am so in love with him and I have truly never been happier. Having a little one to take care of and play with is such a tremendous joy. I’ll try not to post too many pictures of my little love but I just think the world of him.

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Many exciting things in the works currently and I’ll try to post more regularly. This has definitely been a season of change in my life and I’m adjusting in the process. I hope your fall has been a happy one and that you have something to smile about these days.

Keep shining,

The Sunny Girl, Lauren Cook
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