The BRCA Dilemma…What’s Working for Those Who Have It?

“The thing you fear most has no power. Your fear of it is what has the power. Facing the truth really will set you free.”   

Oprah Winfrey

Because of advances in genomics testing, women with a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer are taking the initiative to find out what their chances are of being diagnosed with the disease in their lifetime.

Abnormal BRCA1, BRCA2 and PALB2 genes may account for up to 10% of all breast cancers, or 1 out of every 10 cases and 15% of ovarian cancers. The risks of developing breast or ovarian cancer over one’s lifetime can be up to 5 times higher than those in the general population (MayoClinic.org). Getting tested and learning that you carry one of these mutations can be very emotionally challenging. Because there is no way to control the risk factors with diet, exercise or lifestyle modifications, a loss of innocence and an increased level of stress often accompany one’s new reality.

Because of celebrity involvement and medical progress, on-line and community support is widely available, offering information, referrals, personal stories and more. Genetic counselors and groups such as FORCE, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the National Cancer Institute are authoritative places to explore and to learn.

Everyone copes differently after receiving this news. Some women opt for watchful waiting and others take action with preventive surgery.

Nothing in life is to be feared, it is only to be understood. Now is the time to understand more, so that we may fear less.

Marie Curie

Eva SooHoo, founder of Eileen & Eva®, learned about her BRCA2 diagnosis several years ago. “I understand the fear, sadness and anxiety that accompanies this diagnosis, but the future is not as grim as we might think. We are blessed that we have more information to work with, and that there are surveillance and surgical options to minimize our risks.” As a BRCA2 carrier, she opted for a double mastectomy and total hysterectomy. (Most insurance companies cover these procedures along with breast reconstruction.)

Eva is grateful for the care she received by providers and her family, and is especially pleased with her results. “My plastic surgeon did a terrific job and in no way do I feel less feminine or powerful.

“I am by nature, an over-achiever. I am an athlete at heart. Once I knew what I was dealing with, I wanted my body to be in the best shape it could be for the rest of my life,” she adds. “It wasn’t a cake walk. It took a great deal of effort to recover, to be gentle and yet driven to feel and look good. I involved my family in my journey and my daughter, who was 16 years old at the time, witnessed almost everything I went through.”

Eva expanded her dreams and goals along the way. To honor her mother who died of ovarian cancer and to celebrate their bonds and love of fashion, she launched Eileen & Eva®, a boutique clothing line, to help women heal with style during their treatment and recovery phases – and beyond. Each piece is designed for easy access, with simple and elegant lines.

Eva views her decision as responsible and empowering. Should her daughter be diagnosed with the same gene in her future, she will most likely take the same steps as Eva did to minimize her risk. “One of my jobs is to help her to be independent and to live her life fully and freely. She won’t be unhinged or unprepared to take action,” Eva says. “That gives me ultimate peace and in the meantime, I am going to show her that living with passion, love and creativity is the best medicine of all!”



Jane O. Smith

Jane is a speaker and a catalyst. Her journey as a breast cancer survivor informs much of her content. You can reach her on Linkedin @JaneOSmith.

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