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‘In My Own Words’

September 23, 2012
By STEVIE BABER For the Sunday News-Register , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

OK, I was scared. I admit it. What if the test showed I did have the breast cancer gene? How would I feel? Anxious? Guilty? And what about my kids?

Can't think about that now makes me too nervous I'll put that on my mental back burner for another day... or year

That crossed my mind seven years ago when my oncologist suggested I get tested for the HBOC syndrome. His right-on recommendation came after my third and final breast cancer surgery since 1987. I was 37 when first diagnosed and had a family history of breast cancer. But even after my third "strike," I struggled with the possibility that my genetic makeup could endanger my children. Instead, I selfishly convinced myself my "strikes" were just bad luck, weird coincidences, whatever!

But my mind games and denials ended abruptly this spring after learning my 32-year-old daughter now faced her own breast cancer fight. Hollie was only 7 when she first watched me cope with the realities of cancer. This can't be happening to her, too!

It can and it did. Suddenly I shifted into full "Mama Bear" mode and was eager to discover if genetics was a source of our similar diagnoses. Within a day of hearing her biopsy results, I did the BRCA test. Within a week I received confirmation of what I feared, but could now not ignore - the hereditary nature of my disease.

However, despite years of testing delays, somehow I lucked out. Even though no ovarian complications had developed, I eliminated that threat through recent surgery. But to be honest, without those BRCA results, I'd probably still be putting off any further medical action. Life-altering information, whether welcome or not, has a way of shaking up a blah attitude!

The focus has now switched to Hollie. Since testing positive for the BRCA1 gene, Hollie is also taking preventative steps to minimize her chances for future HBOC problems. Following up on our BRCA results, my family has adopted more aggressive medical strategies aimed at the next generation. When Hollie's two young daughters reach 18, they will have the option to be tested for the HBOC syndrome. Equally important, my son Ken (remember he, too, can have the gene) is presently awaiting the results of his own genetic testing. His outcome could likewise affect his daughter's future medical monitoring.

My point is I chose to live in la-la land for years about the role genetics played in my disease. I reacted only after being rocked by my own child's shocking diagnosis. After watching me battle breast cancer for 25 years, Hollie knew exactly what she'd do if she followed in my unfortunate footsteps. Her bold and unwavering choices were merely justified by her BRCA results.

Knowledge is power! Don't let fear and "what ifs" take control of your future. If you fit the screening criteria, find out your HBOC status, share it with your family, and then make your own informed decisions. These steps can save your life or someone you love.

As for my daughter and me, we're hopeful 2012 will be the year both of us kick cancer's butt - for good!

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