A breast cancer survivor shares her experiences with the BRCA gene.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

A Family Affair

When I conveyed the news to my family, they tried to decipher the information the best they could. After all, the BRCA gene is a fairly new topic these days--yet to be the buzz at the cocktail party circuit.

Besides the dilemma in deciding my next steps, the news also impacted my parents and my brothers.

One of my parents was obviously the carrier, and the more critical person to be tested for the gene was my mom since, if she had it, she would be at high risk for breast and ovarian cancer. It would also mean the gene would be passed down through her entire side of the family.

My brothers were also potential carriers, and if they were, this could affect their daughters. But no one budged. Mom saw no reason to test at her age, and my brothers said their daughters weren't old enough to develop breast cancer.

Note: Once the genetics lab establishes your profile, it's easier to test relatives since they know the specific mutation to look for. Consequently, the test is only a few hundred bucks versus thousands. And the results are not reported to health insurance companies (unless your insurance company is paying for it, of course)--so, it's totally confidential.

After reviewing a brochure featuring photos and illustrations of what my impending, preventative surgeries would entail--and how my body would be hacked up 50 million ways -- Mom became angry and suspicious. She didn't want me to be a guinea pig for my physicians. I wasn't too keen about the procedures either at this point. Dad found a newspaper article that reported the consequences of the BRCA test were overstated.

Underneath Mom's concern, though, was a nagging feeling that, in some way, she had contributed to my cancer--commonly known worldwide as "mother's guilt."

Her email to me made me realize her pain:
"We love you and hope this will be over soon without too much physical agony and discomfort. As the ones who brought you into this world,we feel every pain you have and every disappointment, and happiness."

Meanwhile, my oncologist asked me if Mom had been tested, and I explained Mom's reaction. So, Dr. Kay asked me to have Mom call her, which Mom eventually did. After they talked, Dr. Kay ended the conversation by saying that I was like family to her, and she wasn't going to let anything happen to me. This meant a lot to Mom and helped reassure her that my doctor's last name wasn't Jekyll.

But it wasn't the conversation with Dr. Kay that actually changed Mom's mind. It was because she called all her friends and asked their opinion, and they convinced Mom to get tested. So she did.

The results of Mom's test came in...and she didn't carry the gene mutation after all! It was Dad's fault! Of course, I could have told you that to begin with--those people from Alabama...

Once Dad was caught red-handed as the carrier, he seemed to recall that his father's half-sisters had all died of cancer. Hmm...

But I don't blame Dad for passing along the breast cancer gene to me. I blame him for giving me thick ankles and a big butt.