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Meet a Rivkin Edu Ambassador: Izzy Shahmirza

Izzy and her mom, an oncology nurse and her inspiration to help those affected by cancer.

Meet an Ambassador

The Rivkin Center for Ovarian Cancer’s Education program provides free health education workshops across the west coast. Rivkin education campus ambassadors are the feet-on-the-ground representatives at colleges for the Rivkin Center, helping set up workshops, identify opportunities to reach more students, and so much more.

Say hello to Izzy Shahmirza, CanCan ambassador at the University of California, Los Angeles.

About Izzy

Where are you from? Santa Cruz, California

Where do you live now and what does a typical day look like for you? I currently live in Los Angeles and am attending UCLA! I wake up on a sunny LA day, attend my classes, either go to my research lab, continue to help plan Relay for Life at UCLA, or reach out to different organizations on campus to host a Rivkin Edu party! I also make sure to get some exercise — either playing in an Intramural basketball game, going to the gym, or going for a swim. I also TRY to cook myself dinner — cooking is still a work in progress:)

What do you do for fun? I love to play basketball, spend time with my friends and family, hike in the outdoors, and go to the beach!

What is your favorite mantra? Let go and let God:)

What is your favorite drink? Thai Tea Boba

What advice would you give to your younger self? To live in the moment more, to not worry about the future and to not hold onto the past — to always live life to the fullest through passion!

What are you most proud of? One of my proudest moments was when I found out that I got into UCLA. But, I also am proud to be discovering what I am passionate about and being able to live out those passions.

Where has been your favorite place to travel? Mexico:)

What is one thing people would be surprised to know about you? I am half Mexican and half Persian.

Where do you go to find inspiration? I either talk to my parents to find inspiration, go find it in nature, or through my Catholic faith.

Where’s your happy place? With my parents and close friends, anywhere in nature, or in Mexico!

Who is your role model? Mom and Dad:)

How Izzy got involved

What inspired you to get involved with Rivkin Edu? My mom is my main inspiration to why I have a passion for serving those who have cancer. My mom is an Oncology nurse and she works so unbelievably hard to care for her patients! I also have many family members and friends who have battled cancer, so I wanted to be a part of an empowering organization in which we go out to teach others about the importance of taking one’s health into their own hands; to become advocates for their health, and to learn the severity of cancer and the effects it has on patients as well as on family members and friends.

What is your favorite memory from a Rivkin Edu party? When Gail or Lauren, UCLA’s survivor, and educator, share their personal cancer stories; they are inspirations to all the attendees! I know personally, I feel a sense of empowerment — hearing their stories only motivates me to work harder to help those who have cancer and strive to create a cancer-free world.

How can people help support someone going through cancer? To be present for them. To let the cancer patient know that they are there for them, to support them, and encourage them to keep fighting. I also think a cancer patient does not need to be reminded that they have cancer, therefore, people can be themselves, not act completely different because their friend or a family member has cancer. People need to remain hopeful, positive, and a light for cancer patients and cancer patients also need to strive to be hopeful, positive, and a light.

What is the most important thing you want attendees to learn at a Rivkin Edu party? I want attendees to not only learn about breast and ovarian cancer (the symptoms, the treatments, the effects these cancers have on the body), but I also want attendees to become advocates for their own health; to learn about what is normal about their bodies and what is abnormal. I also want attendees to leave the parties feeling empowered to go share the knowledge they have gained with friends and families so more and more people learn the importance of taking care of one’s health and becoming advocates for one’s health.

How many Rivkin Edu parties have you hosted/attended? We have hosted 6 parties so far, with two more on the way!

How many total attendees have you hosted? We have hosted at least 100, or close to 100, attendees since February 2018.

Do you have any events coming up? Yes! We have a Rivkin Edu Party on Wednesday, May 16th! With more to come as well:)

Learn more about the CanCan program

Want to learn more about becoming a campus ambassador? Apply here.

Talk to your Family

Talking to your family and identifying cancer in your family tree can be a good indicator of your health risks. Download our Family Tree Worksheet here.  Be sure to include yourself, children, parents, siblings, aunts, uncles, and grandparents.

Get Educated

Know your body and be proactive about your health. Learn about your breast and ovarian health. Learn about the risk factors and signs & symptoms for breast and ovarian cancer.

Trusted Healthcare Provider

Having a relationship with a health care provider you know and trust is one of the most important decisions you’ll make about your health care. Click here to find a provider

Higher Risk in the Ashkenazi Jewish Population

In the general population, around 1 in 400 people carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation. People of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry have a 1 in 40 chance of carrying a BRCA mutation, making them 10 times as likely to carry a BRCA mutation as someone in the general population. Whether you’re a man or a woman, if you have a BRCA mutation then there is a 50% chance of passing the mutation on to your children, whether they are boys or girls. It’s important to note that these mutations significantly increase risk, but are not a guarantee a person will get cancer.

Why is the Ashkenazi Jewish population at higher risk?

Over 90% of the BRCA mutations found in the Jewish community are one of three “founder mutations”. A founder mutation is a specific gene mutation in a population that was founded by a small group of ancestors that were geographically or culturally isolated. Because the population was isolated, the rate of founder mutations in descendants is much higher than it would be if the population were larger and co-mingling with more genetically diverse populations. A large expansion in the population caused the current high frequency of the mutations in the Ashkenazi Jewish population. If you are of Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry, the chance of carrying a BRCA gene mutation compared to the general population is increased tenfold. BRCA mutations can be passed down from either your mother’s or father’s side, and may be associated with any of the following cancers:
  • Breast cancer
  • Ovarian cancer, fallopian tube, peritoneal cancer
  • Male breast cancer
  • Prostate cancer
  • Pancreatic cancer
  • Colon Cancer

Ready to take action? Knowledge is power. Take this short quiz to be proactive about your health.

Genes 101

Our bodies are made of many tiny building blocks called cells. Our cells contain a copy of our genome – all of the DNA genetic code we inherited from our parents. Our genome is organized into 46 chromosomes, 23 inherited from mom and 23 from dad. Each chromosome has hundreds or thousands of genes. Each gene has the instructions to make a protein that may control the structure or function of cells, can determine many things including how tall we are or the color of our eyes. Genes also contain instructions for many things inside of us that we cannot see, such as how our bones are formed or how our heart works. Each gene is made up of molecules called nucleic acids (A, T, C, and G). The specific sequence of the nucleic acids holds the instructions that control all the components and their functions in cells.

If the DNA sequence is changed, like a spelling mistake, the instructions may not make sense. The technical term for this change is “mutation,” meaning there is a change to the usual genetic code that may change the instructions stored in the gene. A mutation in a gene that repairs DNA damage or controls cell growth can increase the risk of developing cancer.

Sporadic vs Hereditary Cancers:

Ovarian and breast cancer can be either sporadic or hereditary. Sporadic cancers make up the vast majority (85-90%) of ovarian and breast cancers and are not associated with family history of either cancer or inherited cancer-associated mutations. Sporadic cancers arise from genetic mutations acquired in some cells of the body by events part of normal metabolism and environmental factors. This type of cancer can happen to anyone. Most acquired gene mutations are not shared among relatives or passed on to children.

Hereditary (also known as inherited, or familial) cancers are those that occur due to genetic mutations that are inherited from mom or dad. Other blood relatives may also share these same gene mutations. Parents give one copy of each gene to their children. If a parent has a genetic mutation in a gene, each of their children have a 50% chance of inheriting that mutation. Therefore, even in families with hereditary cancer, not all family members inherit the mutation that is causing cancer, and their risk of cancer is similar to the average person in the general population. Individuals who are suspected to have a family history with high incidence of ovarian, breast, and other cancers may be offered genetic testing to try to find the specific genetic mutation that may put them at risk. Importantly, individuals who do not have a known genetic mutation but have high incidence of ovarian, breast, or other cancers in their families are still considered at higher risk for developing those cancers.

Hereditary cancers often occur at an earlier age than the sporadic form of the same cancer, so experts often recommend starting cancer screening at a younger age for individuals at high risk for hereditary cancer. Hereditary cancers can also be more aggressive than the sporadic form of the same cancer. Individuals who have inherited a gene mutation may be at a higher risk for more than one type of cancer.

BRCA 1 and BRCA 2: Most Common hereditary breast and ovarian cancer

The genes that are most commonly involved in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer (HBOC) are BRCA1 and BRCA2. These genes are named for their link to breast (BR) cancer (CA), but they are also linked to ovarian cancer risk as well as other cancers. Both women and men can inherit mutations in these HBOC genes. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are tumor suppressor genes that have a usual role in our body of providing instructions on repairing DNA damage and preventing cancer. When a family has an inherited mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2, this leads to an increase in cancer risk. Not every man or woman who has inherited a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene will develop cancer, but people who have a mutation do have a significanlty increased chance of developing cancer, particularly cancer of the breasts or ovaries.

While breast and ovarian cancers are the most common cancers diagnosed in people with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, the risk of some other cancers is also increased. Men with BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations have a higher risk of early-onset prostate cancer than men without mutations in either gene. Other cancers seen at increased rates, particularly in individuals with BRCA2 mutations, include pancreatic cancer and melanoma. Researchers are continuing to find new genes that are involved in hereditary breast and/or ovarian cancer so it is important to follow up with a genetic counselor on a regular basis if hereditary breast and ovarian cancer is likely in your family.

Talk to your family about your health history and take the Assess Your Risk quiz here