In 2010 at the age of thirty-seven, she receives the terrifying news that she has two primary breast cancers. This becomes a frightening opportunity to practice what she preaches.
The doctor becomes the patient.
Having cared for her husband with testicular cancer eight years earlier and dedicating her career to helping others with cancer, Jodie understands the role of caregiver both on a personal and professional level. The role of patient, however is another matter. The diagnosis comes exactly one month after the end of her marriage. What ensues is the epitome of complicated grief and a foray into the world of cancer from the other side of the desk.
Necessity fills her life with surgeries, chemotherapy, and genetic counselling. She relocates interstate to her parents’ home in country Victoria for a healthy dose of family dysfunction. Genetic testing and a prophylactic hysterectomy adds salt to the open wound of infertility and viciously rubs it in. With no family history of breast cancer, Jodie's family, including her younger sister Kim, confronts the news that Jodie carries the BRCA1 genetic mutation.
Forced to draw upon the psychological strategies she’d previously taught her clients, Jodie discovers that many are ineffective. She revisits many of her sessions with clients, reflecting on the invaluable life lessons each one offers: Sarah, the thirty-six-year-old mother diagnosed with terminal breast cancer who urges Jodie to work with her family to prepare them for her death; Alex, a sixteen-year-old dying from brain cancer who teaches Jodie the meaning of happiness; and Michael, the man who should be retiring to enjoy his dream home with his family but instead finds himself in the terminal stages of prostate cancer.
Jodie also meets Sam, a thirty-nine-year-old mother of three, diagnosed with breast cancer at the same time. Together, they forge a bond based on their common diagnoses and similar treatment pathway, sharing information and supporting one another until Sam loses her battle.
Recovered, and approaching her fortieth birthday, Jodie ventures again into the world of love daring to face the challenges that her new post-cancer body brings. She braves the realm of online dating to meet Rick and his children who, for a short time, provide Jodie with the hope that she has not missed out on having the family she covets.
Starting from scratch, Jodie develops her own toolkit to conquer the psychological minefield of cancer, grief and loss, infertility and breast reconstruction. Interspersed throughout are letters she writes to her grandmother . . . her Nan.
Jodie learns more from her own journey than she ever does, or could, from her studies.
This is that journey from a terrifying diagnosis to a cancer free future.
Reading 'A Hole in my Genes' - even 40 years after my own experience with cancer - has provided me with valuable insights as to why I became who I became. It has also exposed and explained some unresolved issues from my time with, and immediately post, cancer. I only wish this book had been available then!
Bruce Esplin AM
Former Victorian Emergency Services Commissioner and cancer survivor