Can We Have a Talk about Hereditary Cancer Risks?


While waiting for my daughter to get a prophylactic cancer surgery, I sketched a cartoon that I hope will get people talking about hereditary cancer risks.

cartoon drawing of blogger, Mark Hicks

I recently became a volunteer advocate at FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). I look forward to helping raise hereditary cancer awareness as well as supporting the hereditary cancer community. And hopefully, outside the cancer community I can encourage families that have a history of cancer to sit down and talk about potential risks and maybe prevent a tragedy like the one that happened in my family.

With that, I thought this would be a good time to share a cartoon and the story behind it.

I originally sketched out the cartoon several months ago while sitting in a hospital waiting room while my daughter was having surgery. (I try to distract myself by drawing when I’m stressed and worried.) There were other cartoons and doodles created that day, but those are really angry and profanity-laced and unpublishable here.

It was my daughter’s second of three planned prophylactic surgeries to reduce her cancer risk due to the BRCA2 mutation she inherited from her late mother. It was thinking about her mother and her mother’s family that inspired the sketches.

As I was sitting there drawing, I was missing my wife desperately and so wishing that she could also be there for our daughter. My wife and our daughter should be co-previvors, supporting each other as they faced the challenges of living with the exact same BRCA2 variant.

Talking about family cancer history can be like discussin the elephant in the room.   Cartoon by Mark Hicks

Talking about family cancer history can be like discussin the elephant in the room.

Cartoon by Mark Hicks

I know from all my years of experience as an illustrator that sometimes a satirical image can get people thinking and talking. So, I wanted to figure out a way to fit my cartoon into a blog post.

While searching for something to reference that might support the cartoon, I came across a CURE® article titled, “All in the Family: The Importance of Talking About Hereditary Cancer.” It’s an interview at a FORCE conference with a genetic counselor who helped create, a website where families who have hereditary cancer syndromes can communicate and find educational materials. The article discusses genetic testing and some reasons why families don’t talk about inherited cancer risks.

The story is a few years old, but it’s worth reading and sharing because the information about how to talk to your family about hereditary cancer is still relevant.

The opening paragraph in the “All in the Family” article reads: “If you knew you held the information that could potentially save someone’s life, would you share it with them? That’s up to you to decide. But when it comes to hereditary cancers, what you choose to share could be the lifeline your loved ones need for the future.”

I think that passage should be printed out on a poster and hung on every genetic counselor’s wall.

I’m here sharing this now because my wife wasn’t thrown a lifeline. But our daughter was, and she grabbed it. Unfortunately, she faces the future without her mother because relatives didn’t share genetic information and talk about the family’s cancer history.

I hope my cartoon will be printed out and hung up too. Maybe it will get a few people talking honestly and openly with their loved ones about their family’s health history.

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