I am a 38-year-old wife, a mom of two young kids and a lawyer. I am also a “Previvor” – meaning I took steps to stop my cancer before it could start. In July 2018, I purchased a 23andme at-home DNA test because I thought it could be a good opportunity to connect with distant relatives. But on September 13, 2018, I received my results and learned I carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation. I was in shock. I didn’t have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, so how was I at an increased risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer? Up until this point, my only knowledge and reference to BRCA was Angelina Jolie, as I never thought BRCA would be an issue for me. I had no idea that 1 in 40 Ashkenazi Jews carried the BRCA gene mutation, and of those that 87 percent were likely to develop breast cancer, or that 54 percent would develop ovarian cancer. Given those startling statistics, I knew I needed to do something.
I immediately called my doctor, Liz Etkin-Kramer, who suggested a medical-grade genetic test to confirm the mutation. Speaking with Dr. Etkin-Kramer was the best decision, because she was able to discuss my results, my options for treatment and most importantly, assured me that everything was going to be okay.
On November 12, 2018, just shy of two months from receiving my test results, I underwent a prophylactic risk-reducing total hysterectomy with salpingo-oophorectomy to remove my ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus and cervix. Less than 3 months later, I had a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. By undergoing these procedures, I reduced my risk of breast and ovarian cancer to about 6 percent and 2 percent, respectively.
Through my personal journey and learning of my genetic history, I have become an advocate for raising awareness surrounding the BRCA mutation and encouraging not only those with a family history of cancer, but all Ashkenazi Jews – to get screened.
This holiday season, I encourage you to give those you love the gift of knowledge and the gift of life by providing them with this inexpensive, simple, medical-grade saliva genetic test. I am forever grateful that I had the knowledge and power to take control of my health, that I will be able to be watch my children grow up, and that I have greatly reduced the chances of a cancer diagnosis.
To learn more about BRCA mutations and their impact on the Ashkenazi community, visit yodeah.org, a nonprofit organization who’s mission is to educate and facilitate cost-effective testing for hereditary cancer genetic mutations in the Jewish community. Yodeah’s goal is to save lives. Knowledge is power. Knowledge saves lives.