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Instinct To Survive
Robert Ortlieb Special to the Jewish News
High-risk cancer patient does all she can to ensure her best life.
Rose Brystowski, 61, of Oak Park is the daughter of Holocaust survivors.
As such, she did not have a large family tree to look to for her family health history.
She did, however, inherit her parents’ strong spirit and instinct for survival.
Nine years ago, she was tested for the BRCA genetic mutation after her older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer and found to be BRCA positive.
Upon learning she, too, was BRCA positive, Brystowski made a conscious decision to do all she could to ensure living the best life possible anyway.
Learning that the BRCA mutation is associated with a significantly higher risk of certain cancers, including an 80 percent lifetime incidence of breast cancer, within a few months, Brystowski consulted with top specialists and had surgery to remove her ovaries, Fallopian tubes and breasts.
“I could have looked at this as though I was cursed but chose to look at this as an amazing second chance,” said Brystowski, who is one of 24 women depicted in a new outdoor mural at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak. (See box.)
She resolved to explore and experience as much of life as possible.
She attends lectures three days a week. She took ballet lessons.
“It was fun and rewarding but I’m no ballerina,” Brystowski said with a laugh.
She took swim lessons and continues to swim three times a week.
Active in the Jewish community, Brystowski helped launch a phone messaging program to alert more than 1,200 families of a recent death in the community, so that all would have the necessary information to attend the funeral and visit mourners during the shivah period.
She also embraced Beaumont Health’s BRCA support group and takes the podium to tell her story whenever possible.
“As an Ashkenazi Jew, I had a 1 in 40 chance of being BRCA positive as compared to 1 in 400 for the general population,” she said.
“Shortly after my positive test result, my married daughter decided she, too, would test for the mutation. On the day she was to learn her result, I told her I was impressed at how calm she was. She replied, ‘I saw how you handled it, Mom, and I’m not scared,’” Brystowski recalled.
Her daughter’s test result came back negative.
“Often, we don’t have control of what happens in life,” Brystowski, said. “But we have control of how we handle it. I am so grateful for the opportunity to do something proactive and empowering. I feel I was able to change my destiny.”
Beaumont Mural Honors Inspiring Local Women
To honor and celebrate inspirational local women, Beaumont commissioned local artist Desiree Kelly to create a unique three-dimensional outdoor mural that was unveiled May 1 at Beaumont Hospital, Royal Oak.
“We understand women’s health needs are special and unique,” said Carolyn Wilson, Beaumont executive vice president and COO. “We are there for women from the moment they are born to the delivery of their first child to their end-of-life care. The mural gives us an opportunity to recognize the strength and individual journeys of 24 inspiring local women.”
Replicas of the mural are on display at Beaumont’s seven other hospitals.