Although I had been familiar with the term breast cancer in our family over the years, time seemed to stop on the late September afternoon in 2015 when my then 41-year old sister called me. “I found a lump,” she said, calmly.
In any other situation, a lump could have just been anything – an infection, a cyst or maybe even a benign tumor. But with our family history, it couldn’t be nothing.
My sister was by far our youngest family member to be diagnosed. Our mother was in her 60’s, both grandmothers in their 70’s and a great aunt and uncle who died from the disease in their 80’s.
My sister sadly endured everything that breast cancer had to offer: an emergency double mastectomy, sixteen rounds of chemotherapy and some really rough weeks of radiation. The tiredness, the hair loss, the skin burning – it all started to take over.
But instead of having the motto of hating cancer or turning into a negative, my sister chose to keep all things positive. She was the official starter for a local race, she threw out the first pitch at baseball game in town and and she was featured in a commercial for her hospital – all signifying the bravery that she chose to use to fight cancer. Here is a picture of her conducting one of her several interviews for the local media:
As her 31-year old sister and a mother of two small boys, I needed more answers. WHY was everyone in our family getting breast cancer? HOW could I stop this from happening to me? WHEN should I do something? The first thing that I asked my sister when she was diagnosed was, “Are you BRCA positive?” She wasn’t. And neither was our mom nor me. But I needed to press forward to find more answers.
After months of researching a possible link to genetic breast cancer in our family, I was connected to a local genetic counselor, who after conducting a panel test on me, concluded that I was variant for a gene called NBN. Could this be a problem in my future? Maybe. Did I have to take immediate action? No, not necessarily. The counselor suggested that I wait around and see what happened in 10 years – but I knew the action that I would take after 10 minutes of considering it.
As of November 2016, my sister has fought and has beaten stage 2 ductal carcinoma. She has successfully recovered from many complications which occurred during her double mastectomy. She also chose to have a preventative hysterectomy this past month and fortunately all went well.
I chose to have a preventative double mastectomy in September of 2016 although cancer has never touched my body. The alternative to me has always looked way worse than the possible pains associated with a major surgery.
My sister and I have teamed up to share our message: you do NOT have to have the BRCA gene to get or to worry about getting breast cancer. There are several breast/ovarian cancer variants, other than BRCA, that are understudied, underfunded and under-researched.
We urge each of you brave women to become familiar with your family’s breast cancer history and to learn more about these additional variant genes.
You can follow my sister as she triumphs through her cancer journey at: Kristin Hurley’s Lifeline and our continued paths of sharing more information about non-BRCA variances at: Bravery without BRCA.