Passing on breast cancer


Getting breast cancer at 37 was pretty terrible. I had a 1-year-old daughter who was the light of my life, and I guarantee that if you talk to any mother who is diagnosed with breast cancer, it's all about the children. At first it was about me living long enough to raise her. I wanted her to be old enough to remember me. Then five years after I was diagnosed, my 72-year-old mother was diagnosed with a really nasty breast cancer. At about that time, we started to hear about a breast cancer gene. I don't know when the reality hit me that my cancer might be genetic, but when I added 2 and 2 and came to the very frightening conclusion that, if I did have a gene, I could have passed it on to my daughter, I got very angry. Not my daughter.When another gene was identified it was still too soon for me to consider being tested. She was only 7, and there was little I could do at that point. Then when she was a teenager, my brother was diagnosed with prostate cancer at 48. Then at 57, I was diagnosed with a second breast cancer in the other breast. It was time. I tested negative, but the report said I was in a familial cluster or something like that. I asked my genetic counselor what it meant, and she said that there was something going on, they just didn't know what it was, and I would need to be alert for new tests and other ways to look at genetics.Great news. As I lived my life after that, I kept up with what was going on and my daughter kept getting older. She graduated from college, got a job (hooray!) and had health insurance. On her first visit to the gynecologist, she filled out all the paperwork and the doctor had barely said hello before asking if I had been tested for the gene. When she called me asking if I had been tested, I told her yes and that I was negative. Now it was up to her doctor to say what I hoped she would -- and she did. She would have to be her own advocate and keep abreast of information about genetics for her own health as well as getting mammograms early and do breast self-exam monthly starting now.

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