Most of you know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month; and some of you may know that for us, this fight is personal.
My mother, Janet is a 20 year breast cancer survivor, and a 3 year ovarian cancer survivor. Her experience with cancer has not been by chance; the BRCA-1 gene mutation runs in our family. In 2017 my sister and I both got tested for the BRCA gene mutation; my sister tested positive and I tested negative. It’s no coincidence that at 39 years old, my sister is currently undergoing chemotherapy treatments for breast cancer. It is only because she was proactive, and constantly being monitored that they found her cancer as early as they did. Genetic testing saves lives every day, in this case: my sister, Jasmine is a living testimony.
Not familiar with the BRCA gene, it’s role, and what it means if you have a BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene mutation? Neither was I until 2017, when my mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her team of doctors kept talking about how “lucky” she was that they found her ovarian cancer so early; I assure you that “lucky” was the last thing that my mother felt at the time when she realized that she was going to have to do chemotherapy treatments again, after 17 years of being a breast cancer survivor. But in hindsight, we realized that my mom was more than lucky, she was blessed; and the rest of my family has benefited from what initially seemed like an awful diagnosis. My mother getting tested for the BRCA gene mutation was one of the best things that she could have done. Because of her journey, most of the women in our family have now been tested for the BRCA gene mutation.
So what exactly is the BRCA gene? The Breast Cancer (BRCA) gene is actually meant to help us fight off breast cancer, although the name seems to suggest otherwise. Everyone has the BRCA gene present in their DNA (both males and females can be affected), but the problem comes when the gene has been damaged and is no longer able to do the job that it is meant to do, which is ward off breast cancer. When the BRCA gene does not function properly it is considered a “mutated gene,” hence we call it the BRCA gene mutation. There are actually two different types of the BRCA gene mutation, BRCA-1 and BRCA-2. Each gene mutation can increase your risks for certain forms of cancer. For a more detailed description of the BRCA gene and the affects of having the mutation, visit nationalbreastcancer.org
Although I tested negative for the BRCA-1 gene mutation, I still have to see an oncologist once a year and began getting yearly, mammograms and breast MRIs last year at the age of 32 years old. Knowing your status gives you the power to be proactive and have more aggressive monitoring, that may increase your chances of being a survivor. Being “BRCA positive” doesn’t guarantee that you will get diagnosed with breast cancer or even ovarian cancer, but it significantly increases your risk.
While BRCA gene mutations are not extremely common, if breast cancer runs in your family, don’t speculate if you have the BRCA gene mutation; get tested. Most insurances will cover the genetic test completely if there is a significant, family history.
And even when trying to be proactive and doing everything “right,” life will still sometimes throw a curve ball your way, and force you to re-group. My sister was initially scheduled to have a prophylactic (preventative), double mastectomy and reconstruction on March 27th of this year. However, due to COVID-19, her surgery was postponed. When she went for her mammogram in June, they found a mass that was not detected on her previous mammogram in December of 2019. What are the chances of that you ask? Not an easy pill to swallow by any means, but we are thankful that she was able to have her surgery re-scheduled for August 13th. Her double mastectomy and reconstruction went extremely well; there were no cancer cells found in her lymph nodes. Because of the type of breast cancer that Jasmine was diagnosed with (triple-negative breast cancer which is common in women who have the BRCA-1 gene mutation), she will have to have 8 treatments over a 4 month time period (chemotherapy every other week).
Some people would be bitter if they were in her predicament, but my sister chooses to be optimistic and look at the glass half full. When she tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene mutation, she immediately tried to raise awareness about the affect that it could have on other women’s lives. Jasmine joined a support group for women who were also “BRCA positive,” and went to her mammograms and breast MRIs every 6 months without fail. She has always had a good diet, drank a ton of water, and stayed physically fit; after testing positive for the BRCA gene mutation, she ramped up her fitness goals even more so to be as healthy as possible. She did all that she could do to be proactive, and yet here we are; she is having her second chemotherapy treatment today. But instead of asking why me, why our family, or what if she had her original surgery on March 27th as planned? She chooses to believe that God saved her life, and she intends to fight for herself and all of the other women out there in her shoes.
Henry and I are asking you to fight along with us by donating to Here for the Girls. Here for the Girls is a community-based, in-person support group that serves young, breast cancer survivors diagnosed under the age of 51 years old. Here for the Girls provides a network of young women through Beyond Boobs who support one another through a difficult diagnosis, and the journey to becoming a survivor!
Here for the Girls is having an event, “Run for the Hills 5k/10k & Fall Fest” on Saturday, October 17th at Wanner Stadium & Warhill Sports Complex located at: 4615 Opportunity Way to Wanner Stadium Williamsburg, VA 23185. The event will be held from 8am to 12 noon and the cost of the tickets to participate is $30 each (all proceeds will go to the support group). Due to COVID-19, they have made some adjustments and provisions for those that still wish to participate. You can either choose to walk/run in-person on October 17th, walk/run individually whenever you can (or with a small group), or join the walk virtually. If you do decide to participate on the day of the event, face coverings are required and social distancing will be in place.
For more information about Here for the Girls, and how you can donate please visit the following link: https://www.classy.org/event/2020-run/e273717