A Caregiver Shares His Story About the Need for Hereditary Cancer Testing
My wife, Heather, was BRCA positive. She passed away this July 4th after a three-year battle with ovarian cancer, leaving behind three children, ages 12, 10 and 3. Heather was a student of family history and genealogy – I remember how, during each family get together, reunion or event she would always seek out the oldest people in the room to find out more about her roots. After her diagnosis, this knowledge played to her advantage as she was quickly able to determine that her mutation came from her father’s side of the family and as a result identify all the other “at risk” family members.
Just like most families, the holiday season for us was always special. Whether at Christmas, Thanksgiving, or both, we could always count on the fact that the whole extended family would get together to celebrate the season at some point. After her diagnosis, the holiday season took on even greater meaning for Heather. We cherished every family celebration like it would be our last. But, perhaps more importantly, Heather saw the holidays as an opportunity to spread the word about the BRCA mutation and hereditary cancer risk. She approached those discussions with the same passion and zeal as she did everything else in life, spending extra time educating her at risk family members on the benefits of being tested.
I will never forget the relief she felt when her sister and a few of her cousins tested negative, all of whom had children. Similarly, it comforted her to know that her younger brother tested positive but was now empowered to take his future back into his own hands. On the other hand, I will also always remember her frustration up until her final days with other members of her family who, as Heather put it “stuck their heads in the sand.” It angered her so much that they refused to take their future into their own hands even as she lay dying in her bed.
As my family enters its first holiday season without our beloved Heather – caring mother and love of my life – I implore you to do your part to preserve your family’s legacy. Give the greatest gifts of all this holiday season – life and peace of mind. Talk to your family about hereditary cancer risk and family history. Educate them on their screening options. You just may end up saving one of their lives.