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After a Recent Medical Scare, I Did At-Home Genetic Testing

Advocate for your health.
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Let me set the scene: I'd just bumped into designer Jason Wu backstage at his New York Fashion Week show and was on my way to the bathroom. Feeling rather encumbered by my oversized camera bag — not to mention tired after a day of marching around NYC to hit as many shows as possible — I was very much looking forward to finding a moment of quiet refuge behind the fancy toilet stall door at The St. Regis Hotel.

I guess that's one way I could count myself lucky in this scenario: I didn't have to take the phone call that would propel me into a state of panic while crammed into one of the port-a-johns that are the standard at most NYFW shows. So I unloaded my gear, sat on the toilet, and reached for the phone in my purse. I was greeted by notifications for a slew of emails, a text from my BFF and a follow up message from my aunt that I should probably respond to. And just as I was about to, my phone started ringing and my doctor's name lit up across the screen. I answered quickly and the physician's assistant dove right in.

"I'm so glad you answered... your results... abnormal pap... atypical cells... here's a reference for a gynecologist specialist."

Image via Unsplash

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There, in the marble and gold-laden bathroom, with 6-feet tall models in full makeup just outside the door, my initial shock quickly melted into panic and I broke down and cried. The assistant tried to console me, telling me it wasn't a big deal (for the record, I'd later learn that my results actually were a big deal). As I fell further and further into a panic the assistant couldn't alleviate, she handed the phone off to the nurse, who told me that everything was going to be OK, and that I needed to follow up but to "hope for the best."

I could write a million words about what happened in the days, weeks, and months that followed. About how I Googled my symptoms until I was a sleepless wreck. About how I held my grandmother's hand in the waiting room at the gynecologist's office. And finally, about how I full-on ugly cried to my doctor, sobbing, "I'm so scared of what you're going to find" as he took tissue samples from my cervix for a biopsy.

I can also tell you that that my biopsy came back normal, as did my two ultrasounds and all the numerous pap smears to follow (I've had six in two years) — no matter how terrified I was to get the phone call from my doctor each and every time.

Image via Unsplash

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I feel incredibly lucky to receive these follow-up results and am so grateful that, almost two years later, the deeply unsettling panic that once upended my entire world has now faded into a distant memory. But all this has also made me more aware of how important it is to advocate for my own health.

Listen to me: your annual exam is incredibly important. And while it's easy to make excuses and skip that annual appointment — or even to conveniently neglect it out of fear of the unknown — please don't. The point of preventative exams is to catch potential issues and address them early on. We are fortunate to live in such a medically advanced world, so take advantage of that fact!

Image via Unsplash

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In addition to preventative appointments and exams (including at-home breast exams, which you should be performing monthly), you can advocate for your own health by taking one of the many at-home gene-screening tests. Color's Hereditary Cancer Test is one of such kits that's received quite a bit of attention in recent months.

It analyzes 30 genes, including BRCA1 and BRCA2 (when mutated, it indicates an increased hereditary risk for breast and ovarian cancer). You may remember that Angelina Jolie tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation and underwent a double mastectomy as a result, an experience she then wrote about in the New York Times. Former "The Bachelor" contestant, Lesley Murphy, did the same.

After my recent medical scare, I opted to do the aforementioned Color's Hereditary Cancer Test. For those curious about how it works, they mail you the kit, you spit a bunch of saliva into a tube, seal it up, and then send it back. Your results are returned within a month. It's designed to be privately (and conveniently) used in the comfort of your own home, but your doctor can also arrange a Color test (or something similar) for you.

Logistically, it's a very simple process — though, emotionally, it was another story: To say I was terrified to see my results would be an understatement. But am I glad I did it? Absolutely. It has given me insight into my genes that I otherwise wouldn't have had. I also appreciate that it allows people to navigate their medical options with much more clarity and precision.

We do our best to exercise regularly, to eat healthy food, to avoid the wrong chemicals, and use the right products. Going further and advocating for your health — your future — is something we should all be doing, as well. No matter how scary it might be, it's always the right choice.

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