Start the conversation


My 35th birthday is coming up soon and it’s a significant number to me.  This was the number when I promised myself I would take action about my family’s heredity breast cancer risk.  That was nearly six years ago I made the promise to myself and, when I did, it seemed like I had all the time in the world.  Now looking back I am surprised at how fast it went.

My mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2009, and her determination to make sense of it all was how we came to realize there is a genetic mutation in our family.  I didn’t realize how many incidences of cancer we had in our family history, but not even my mother knew the extent either until she started talking with my grandmother and her cousins.  If only we had had the conversation earlier, perhaps things could have been different for my mom and for her sister.  But at least we did eventually come together and things are now different for the rest of the family.

My mom and grandmother’s positive test results for BRCA2 initially threw me into an unfamiliar and anxious world.  At 29, living in a new country without a steady job, I wasn’t ready to face the facts whatever they were to be.  Literature I was reading advised women to take action by 35 when they were most likely to have completed their family planning decisions.  I hadn’t even begun to think about that!  I promised myself I would take action by 35 and thankfully by 33 I was ready to face the facts.

My mom initially was concerned about my delay.  She mentioned to me that she worried about me assuming the worst and denying myself the chance to get on with my life.  I didn’t really get that advice at the time.  Now I do.  Now that I am actually approaching 35, I realized that I never even got around to that family planning question.  I honestly did tend to assume the worse and figured kids would probably be out of the question in more ways than one.  I worked instead on sorting out my job and residence situation to brace myself for what I expected would certainly be an unwanted result.

Certainly, we all need to come to terms with things on our own time.  But I think I would also give my mom’s advice now.   There are challenges we will all have to face eventually, but we’re likely stronger than we give ourselves credit for.

On that note, I would like to share a campaign to help get that conversation started in more families.  Below is a message from Sherry Kabran who lost her sister to hereditary breast cancer:

My family has created three guides to teach people basic facts & give a Jewish setting in which to start the conversation.  Please read the following guest post I wrote for Yeshiva U’s genetic cancer blog.  Please consider listing our website on your blog:

While in mourning, some try to cope with their emotions and loss by writing journals, going to support groups, blogging, running races, attending daily minyans, even starting cancer oriented organizations.  The women in my family found their own ways to accept the loss of Carolyn Raizes Davis, mother and sister, but together we created Tree of Life:  a BRCA Conversation guide for Passover, Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh.

Each guide helps Jews of Ashkenazi descent understand basic facts about hereditary cancer risks from the BReast CAncer gene mutation.  The highlighted message is that every family should create a family medical tree, look for red flags and consider genetic testing, if appropriate.  The guides provide a Jewish setting in which to start a serious conversation that might save the 1 in 40 Jews of Ashkenazi descent, who unknowingly has a BRCA gene mutation.

This family project was our suggestion to FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered) to reach out to the Jewish community.  How could we not try to help?  Carolyn passionately believed in teaching the community about BRCA gene mutation risks and worked closely with The Methodist Hospital doctors, to develop an educational program.  Her legacy was EDUCATE anyone who will listen!


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