, September 29, 2017 | More Post by

Freddi N. is the teenage daughter of a previous H4TG blog contributor; she shared this essay with us since it related to our current Pink Link Connect blog contest asking survivors to share their thoughts on genes and breast cancer.

“You are too young to worry about this.” When my physicians brush off my fears about cancer and my risk, I can’t help but feel like a prisoner on death row, anticipating the worst. Knowing too much about cancer can be good and it can be bad. Knowing what the future has in store for you can shape your present as well. Inheriting a genetic mutation that puts you at an 85% potential likelihood of developing breast or ovarian cancer is daunting. My mother and my maternal grandmother both tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation, which unfortunately indicates that I have a 50% likelihood of inheriting the gene mutation as well.

Men and women with this mutation tend to develop cancer at an early stage in life like the members of my family.  Knowing that I have a 50% chance of inheriting the BRCA mutation, I will educate myself on the depths of this mutation, explore my family’s genetic inheritance and investigate ways in which I can decrease my risk factors.

In my quest to unearth as much information as I possibly could about BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations, I have found that, if in fact I do have the mutation, I have an 85% chance of developing breast or ovarian cancer at an early age.  While the general population tends to have only a 25% chance of breast and a 17% chance of ovarian cancers, my genetic makeup raises my odds quite considerably.

In fact, BRCA mutations are found most amongst members of my heritage, Ashkenazi Jews. Everyone possesses the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene but a woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a deleterious mutation in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene. BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and, therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material.  If you have a mutation, you lack the proteins essential for cellular reparation. In my case, since I am too young to be tested, when I am of age, I plan to meet with a genetic counselor.

My maternal grandmother was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer at age 66. It was metastatic and her life expectancy was 18 months. During that time, she was tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations because her mother and family history suggested that there was a causal link to these mutations. Eight months after her death, at the age of 42, my mother was diagnosed with stage 3C breast cancer. She was asked about her family history of cancer and quickly remembered that her mother was tested for BRCA and was positive. She was told that she had a 50% chance of also inheriting the mutation. Her mutation was BRCA2.

In order to lower her risk of recurrence, my mother underwent a radical bilateral mastectomy with Tram Flap reconstruction, six months of chemotherapy, radiation and a total hysterectomy, lowering her risk to only 15% reoccurrence. In addition to a family history of breast cancer that automatically increases my risk, my family’s genetic background must also be taken into account when assessing my future actions or inactions. My paternal grandmother had colon cancer and both my grandfathers had advanced prostate cancer. These cancers are all linked to the BRCA mutation putting me at a greater risk…85 plus percent.

Studies have shown that no risk reduction strategies exist for children and therefore testing for the BRCA mutation may not happen until I am 18. This was a hard pill to swallow for my parents who resisted this ideology and sought research programs by major universities that are conducting studies on early risk reduction strategies for children of BRCA positive parents.

When I turned 16, my parents informed me that although we were not actually going to test to see if I had the BRCA mutation, we were going to be taking precautions for both my brother and I to reduce risk. A healthy diet and plenty of exercise can be the first line of defense against cancer and practically every disease. My dad is a certified nutritionist and he uses his expertise to guide our family. My mother is living proof that a good outlook and a healthy lifestyle can galvanize and propel you to live life to the fullest. I will not let the fear of the unknown paralyze me and will instead use all the tools available to ensure that cancer does not stand a chance in my body.

Throughout my life I have witnessed cancer take lives. On the other hand, I have seen the bravery and courageousness of my mother’s battle. I know now that I have a greater risk of getting cancer due to my inherited genetic makeup. This could serve me poorly and leave me depressed and fated or ultimately bring me closer to appreciating consciousness, spirit, life, healing and help me to become very clear about what I want from my life. If I am one of the “85 percent” I have already won the battle.

-Freddie N.

, September 14, 2017 | More Post by

Melissa Weaver and the Good Health Fairy (a.k.a. H4TG Co-Founder Rene Bowditch) at the Pink Carpet Gala 2017.

Melissa Weaver, a current volunteer and Boober! who was also a volunteer group facilitator for Beyond Boobs!, shares why she’s Here for the Girls:

I was broken, battered, and bald, and that’s when the my love affair with Beyond Boobs! (Here for the Girls) began. I had just received my second dose of “the red devil” when I attended my first BB! retreat. It was at this magical place that I learned, for the very first time, that I was no longer alone. Don’t get me wrong, I had an amazing support system, but as any breast cancer survivor knows, until we have walked the road we cannot fully understand the terrain. I do not know if it was the food, new friends, or fantastic weather, but I knew that I was finally home.

The concept of time takes on a very different meaning after cancer. The desire to go one more year without receiving a visit from the stalker and the need to have the beautiful moments of life frozen forever happens simultaneously. Through this uncertain journey, this amazing organization has been a constant presence and source of unwavering support. These women truly understand the special challenges faced by individuals receiving a cancer diagnosis. We have traded conversations about shopping for shoes for conversations about selecting the best breast surgeon. Instead of chats about the latest hair style, we are discussing the latest wig options. Don’t be fooled though, we laugh, we cry… and we sometimes do talk about shoes.

The truth is we are forever changed and will forever be tied to one another. When you meet another cancer “thriver” you instantly feel a connection that is deep and life changing. Beyond Boobs! was a lifeline at a time when I was drowning in the idea of an uncertain future. It was through this organization that I found a purpose, passion, and place in this ever changing landscape.

-Melissa

, September 04, 2017 | More Post by

Jeff Morrill is H4TG Co-Founder Mary Beth Gibson’s brother. Here he shares why he’s Here for the Girls:

Schopenhauer said that talent can hit a target no one else can hit, but genius hits a target no one else can see.  Mary Beth Gibson, co-founder and executive director of Here for the Girls, is the latter.  And I would know, because she’s my sister, and I’ve been observing her successes for a lifetime.

After surviving cancer herself, Mary discovered the enormous needs of a population of young women reckoning with breast cancer, and she decided to do something (actually a lot) about it.  With the focus, tenacity, and ambition of a Silicon Valley start-up, she and her co-founder, Rene Bowditch, started from scratch and created an organization that would be there for the girls.  But ultimately it’s not about Mary—because her vision and effort have inspired a legion of women and men to join in the mission.  Collectively, they do so much for so many people…delivering love and services for people navigating terrible circumstances when they need it the most.

I am here for the girls because I am one of the legion who has been inspired by my sister.

-Jeff