Living life at 76 percent, filled with hope

In this 2003 photo, Melissa Peckham (right) stands with her mother, Beth Bischoff Blackwell, who died in 2006 of breast cancer.

Here is my story:

Sitting in the exam room in my hospital gown, I am beginning to think that maybe 24 percent is a small number, when the doctor opens her mouth again:

“Now, this is a lifetime risk, so by the time you are 70 or so, you likely will have had the disease ...”

She trails off. I’m trying to compute those numbers — 24 percent ... 76 percent ... 70 years old ... Talking it over with my husband later that evening, he asks me what I mean by “only living at 76 percent?”

I can’t explain it. You can’t explain what it felt like to see your mom with hair on her head in August when you left for college, only to be greeted by a bald smiling face at Christmas.

You can’t explain what it felt like to receive the phone call twice — “I’ve got cancer” then “It came back.”

And you surely can’t explain what it’s like to panic as they are lowering her body into the ground.

But I CAN explain hope. I CAN explain what it feels like to know my odds, as the daughter of a breast cancer victim, and what to do about it: twice yearly breast MRIs, self-breast exams on a monthly basis, and genetic testing.

I suppose that living life at 76 percent is probably more like living it at 200 percent: bright, bold, ambitious and full of love. Twenty-six years old is too young to allow my life to be diminished to 24 percent.

Melissa Peckham,

Mount Pleasant