By Beth Scarola
I can’t describe the emotions that come along with being a BRCA “previvor:” anxiety that I might one day be diagnosed with cancer; guilt for being anxious about a potential diagnosis when there are others fighting the disease; but, overall, gratitude for Moffitt Cancer Center that I finally have a clinical determination that preventive testing is medically necessary for me — and I can seek the preventive testing to ensure that if I am diagnosed with cancer, it is caught early and treated.
I can’t remember a time in my life when cancer was not in the backdrop. My grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 32 and died at 36. She left my father and uncle behind at ages 10 and 7. Her sister died at a young age of ovarian cancer. Their mother fought breast cancer. It seemed only logical to me that I should begin getting screened for breast cancer when I turned 30. Sadly enough, my OB-GYN and primary care physician at that time refused to order screening, citing that a mammogram would be unnecessary exposure to radiation. One provider even told me not to worry about the risk of cancer because it was “only on my dad’s side of the family.” (By the way, that is simply not true!!)
In May of 2016, I decided to take my health into my own hands. I contacted Moffitt’s genetic counseling program and asked to be screened for the BRCA mutations. I was connected with certified genetic counselor Laura Barton. Laura went through my family history and family tree in detail. She agreed that I should be screened for these mutations, and she even identified additional panels of potential mutations for which I should be screened.
Lo and behold, I tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation and other variants of unknown significance. This test result opened the doors to preventive care that arguably I should have been receiving up until that point, as indicated by my family history.
I now undergo numerous annual screening appointments (breast imaging, ovarian cancer screening, skin cancer screenings, etc.). I am thankful to say that Moffitt has kept me healthy, despite a few findings that would have otherwise gone unidentified.
I want the stigma of living with a genetic mutation to be lifted. All of us are walking around with some form of genetic mutations. It is a blessing for me to know that I am at an increased risk of certain types of cancer so that I can be screened more often and alter my own behavioral patterns to reduce my risk of cancer. Moffitt says that our courage inspires theirs. I would like to encourage every woman with a family history of cancer to have the courage to speak up and ask their provider whether genetic testing and preventive screening is right for them.