My mother-in-law, Marcia, was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 38. Her older sister had been treated for breast cancer a few years before, so Marcia knew what to expect. Medicine had not yet linked genetics to cancer risk.
Years later, science discovered the BRCA gene mutation and its link to breast and ovarian cancer. Marcia was tested and was not surprised to learn that she carried the BRCA2 mutation — which meant a 50 to 85 percent risk of developing breast cancer and 16 to 27 percent risk of developing ovarian cancer1. The next question was, did she pass the mutation on to her children?
Making the decision to get genetic testing
My husband, Chuck, who recalled the impact of his mother’s cancer diagnosis on him as a teenager, readily went for his blood work to see if he carried the mutation as well. We were already parents ourselves and this was valuable information to know for our own children’s sake. We were lucky to find out that he did not carry the mutation.
Many years later, Marcia was again diagnosed with breast cancer, but this time it was staged as metastatic when they found it in her bones. Marcia fought her cancer for 4 years, but passed away in December 2015.
Two months after Marcia’s passing, my mammogram and subsequent ultrasound revealed that I had breast cancer. Our family was too familiar with the disease. We knew that my genetic testing was essential to determine if I carried a mutation and could potentially pass it on to our children. I was relieved to learn that I’m not a carrier of the BRCA mutation, so neither Chuck nor I passed on a hereditary gene mutation to our children. My cancer was caught early and I’ve been cancer free for almost 4 years.
Our children’s future
Despite the prevalence and impact that cancer has had on our family, we are grateful for the knowledge that our children do not carry the BRCA mutation. Our experiences have made us even more adamant about being educated and proactive about our health. We now know there are ways to reduce the chances of a future cancer diagnosis for us and our children. And that’s powerful.
Jill Friedman is a former civil rights lawyer, breast cancer survivor, and Rivkin Center education program instructor and survivor. She’s committed to working with the Rivkin Center because she believes people need to be their own health advocate. Her husband, Chuck, is a Rivkin Center board member.
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