For a very long time, breast cancer was something that affected other people. It existed, but in a reality parallel to my own. When my dad’s sister was diagnosed, this disease that was so easy for me to pretend would never affect me, or someone I loved, became very real and very personal. With my family’s permission, I’d like to share a little of their story today, and highlight some ways you can get involved for the women you love in your life.
Aunt Inge was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2013. Nearly immediately, she had a lumpectomy, and went on to complete eight rounds of chemotherapy and radiation. Just as she thought she was nearing the end of her cancer journey, in February, she found out she was BRCA1 positive.
What is BRCA1?
The BRCA1 gene naturally acts as a type of cancer suppressor, most notably for breast and ovarian cancers. Some of the coding in my aunt’s BRCA1 gene is missing, preventing it from doing that very important job. This translates to a high risk of recurrent cancer for her, and the odds that other family members could also carry the faulty gene.
My cousin Jenn is one them. Shortly after the birth of her fifth child, she learned she had inherited the harmful BRCA1 mutation from her mom, and that each of her five children now have a 50% chance of inheriting the harmful mutation as well.
Aunt Inge and my cousin Jenn have made the incredibly brave decision to each undergo a total hysterectomy and double mastectomy to significantly lower their cancer risk. The road ahead of them is still very long, but I am so incredibly proud of their decision to fight so proactively for themselves, and for the ones they love.
As far as cancer stories go, these are the kind you hope for. My aunt will end her fight with cancer in the best possible way – still with us – and my cousin Jenn has determined to not even give it a chance.
As a niece and a cousin, a daughter and a mom, I am thankful to the point of tears that these two women have so much more life to live.
Raising Awareness and How You can Help
On October 5, Jenn, her husband Tim, and their five kids will be participating in the 2014 Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation CIBC Run for the Cure. They’ll be raising awareness and money to fund groundbreaking breast cancer research, education, and health initiatives across their country.
Even though we aren’t able to physically participate in the race, my family will be standing with them in ways we can, and you can too. To support Jenn and her family, and the thousands of Canadian women like my aunt, who will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year, visit their CIBC Run for the Cure page and click “donate now.”
October is Breast Cancer awareness month. If you haven’t already, take a few minutes to educate yourself on breast health, cancer, and hereditary risk. Have a conversation with your doctor and the at-risk women in your life, and find ways to get involved with cancer research in your area. There’s too much at stake to keep pretending.
Here are a few resources my family has found helpful:
- American Breast Cancer Foundation
- Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
- BRCA1 & BRCA2: Cancer Risk & Genetic Testing | National Cancer Institute
- Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer Fact Sheet | Ohio Department of Health
- FORCE (Fighting Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) | Devoted to the fight of Hereditary Breast & Ovarian Cancer
- Willow | Breast & Hereditary Cancer Support Group
- My Medical Choice | Angelina Jolie