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Navigating Motherhood with BRCA

Communicating with our children and families about genetic cancer risk is difficult. Shannon Pulaski is a thoughtful advocate and author who is providing tools to our community.

Before I was a mom, I had all these ideas about what kind of a mother I would be. For a long time, I pictured myself as the mother of a group of rowdy boys. There would be muddy shoes and baseball bats at my door. My home would be loud, messy, and filled with wonderful chaos.  But when I was 27 and learned that I was pregnant with twin girls, my preconceived notions of motherhood changed. I began to reflect a lot on my relationship with my own mother, and I imagined what my relationship would be like with my daughters.   

Throughout my pregnancy, I tried to picture what those first days of motherhood would be like. I’d often slip into a daydream about dressing the girls up in ribbons and bows. I could close my eyes and hear the lullabies I would sing. The reality was a lot more like a thunderstorm than somewhere over the rainbow. It was pre-term labor, bed rest, steroid shots, magnesium drips, and an early arrival that landed us all in the neonatal intensive care unit.  It did not take long for me to realize that motherhood is nothing like you imagine it to be.   

I can vividly recall settling into our NICU stay and cradling my preemie girls as we began to bond.  Instantly, they became my entire world. They were mine, and I was theirs. For a few moments in time, it felt like there was nothing else but the mother-daughter relationship budding between us.

It was in those first days of motherhood that my own mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  And it was in those first months that we discovered that her cancer was hereditary.

Gone were the images of ribbons and bows. Instead, there was just overwhelming fear of what this cancer could take and guilt that the cancer’s legacy could span across generations.  

When my twin daughters were a few months old, I decided to see a genetic counselor to discuss my family’s health history and my own risk of developing cancer.  He presented the option of taking a genetic test. It was a test I wanted to avoid but when I looked at my daughters, I knew we needed this information. For my family, that information became a powerful and life-changing gift.  As a result of that test, I had to make a lot of decisions that impact me as well as my entire family. That test, for better or worse, shaped my motherhood in many ways.  

Today, I am blessed with three children, my twins and my son. I often think about whether they have inherited the same genetic mutation that I carry, that my mother carries, and that her father carried as well. I wonder how I can provide my children with a framework for understanding how this genetic mutation has profoundly affected our family’s history. To

start, I have tried to open the lines of communication and address my children’s questions as they come.  Now only eight years into my journey as a mother, I still find myself wondering what motherhood will look like down the road. Of course, I realize now that it is anything but predictable. But, one thing I now know for sure is that when I think about the kind of mother I want to be, it is one that is continuously building a relationship with her children that centered around love, an open heart, and trust.

Shannon Pulaski is an attorney, author, avid patient advocate, wife, and mother of three. With a strong family history of cancer, Shannon knew she would have to start a conversation with her children about their family’s health history. She created Mom’s Genes to help other parents share their own family’s health history and encourage children to establish healthy lifestyle behaviors at a young age.  To learn more visit  Mom’s Genes is available for purchase now on Amazon.

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