RICHMOND (WRIC)—You likely know someone who's battled breast cancer; it's the most common cancer among women.
This year alone a quarter of a million females will be diagnosed with the disease. But there's an aspect of breast cancer that's rarely, if ever, talked about.
For generations, breast cancer has slowly killed members of 8News Senior Reporter Nate Eaton's family. Here's his story told in his own words:
A year ago, I never would have imagined I'd be here at the Bon Secours Virginia Breast Center. I'm about to undergo a simple test that could determine life or death. The reason I'm here is for my little girl.
Five months ago, my life changed. Little Emerson Eaton was born. She was very alert, perfectly healthy and incredibly adorable. But inside her little body could be a teeny, tiny, microscopic, deadly problem that's been in my family for generations.
"I watched my mother die from breast cancer," says my mom, Alana. "She had it. Her mother had it. My great-grandmother died of cancer, and her brothers and sisters. She came from a very large family; nearly every one died of cancer."
Not only did they die of cancer, but they were all young. So young that, in 1995, researchers in Utah started studying my mom's family to see what was causing the cancer.
"There was so much cancer in my mother's family that we always wondered what it was," my mom says.
For weeks, interviews were done, tests were given and blood was drawn, but doctors ultimately ended up focusing on the BRCA1 gene. Everyone has the gene, but in a small group of people it's mutated. If that's the case, your chances of getting breast and ovarian cancer skyrocket.
While the risk is extremely high, very few have to worry. Less than one percent of people have a mutated brca1 gene.For those few who do have it, aggressive measures are often taken. Remember the time magazine cover of Angelina Jolie? She had a double mastectomy after learning she is BRCA1 positive.
The results came from a simple test—something my mom took almost 20 years ago as part of one of the original BRCA 1 gene study groups.
"They were actually more concerned about the emotional reactions of people getting the gene test at that time because it was brand new," Mom says.
My mom, and eventually her five siblings, were all tested.
My aunt, Margaret, was positive and right now she's fighting stage 4 breast cancer at age 50.
All the other sisters and brothers tested negative except my mother.
Doctors suggested my mom have a double mastectomy. She refused, but did undergo surgery.
"They recommended that I have my ovaries removed because actually the risk is far greater from ovarian cancer than from breast cancer in my family," she says.
Because my mom's a carrier, there's a 50/50 chance I am too.
If so, my risk of getting cancer goes up slightly but that doesn't really concern me.
My daughter does. Because if I carry the mutated gene, she may have it too.
So that brings me to the breast center where I've decided to get the brca1 test.
The test is simple, fast and pain free. I swish with mouthwash two times and that's it.
The mouthwash containing DNA is sent to a lab and I should have the results within a few weeks.
"I think it's a great idea [to get the test] because you have a daughter," Mom says. "You need to know this and if you have the gene that'll be something that she'll be aware of."
This could be something that could change her life as it did my mom's.
So far, she's been cancer free and, at age 62 (Sorry Mom), is likely the longest living person in her family with the mutated gene.
She says getting yearly exams and meeting with doctors keep her from worrying about future possible health problems...
Instead, she focuses on living healthy, her family, and her newest granddaughter Emerson.
"I am not going to let this determine my life," she says. "I'm not going to focus on the fact that I probably or maybe will get breast cancer in my life."
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