Two phone calls that changed my life forever

In the 1970s, my parental grandmother, then a young woman, was treated for breast cancer and made a full recovery. She died in 2014 having never been tested for the BRCA gene mutation. When she died, I requested to be tested for BRCA through the BC Hereditary Cancer Agency but was denied because no one in my immediate family had had a cancer that would directly link me to the gene.

In December 2017, I received a phone call from my sister. She had joined a study at Women’s College hospital in Toronto that included testing for the BRCA gene mutation. She and was positive for the gene. I didn’t hesitate to register for the study and pay the $250 USD for the test. So, my test came, I spit in the cup, sent it back for testing, and a month later I received a phone call informing me that I was also positive for the gene. In that one phone call, I was told that my chances of getting breast cancer and ovarian cancer were extremely high. I was also told that I should make some quick decisions about having more children because screenings and preventable surgeries were now available to me and were recommended immediately. The study also connected me to BC Hereditary Cancer Agency. Decisions were made at home and fortunately, I was pregnant within a month. I had a plan for a salpingo-oophorectomy (a surgery to remove the ovaries and fallopian tubes) the following year. While all of this was happening in my life my sister had gone for her first mammogram. It was clear, but in more intensive screening (available to BRCA carriers) found cancer.

I watched my beautiful older sister go through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation. My sister has made a full recovery and we celebrated the end of her chemo with the birth of my child.

I had my salpingo-oophorectomy the day before my sister’s reconstructive surgery. My sister is cancer free and alive from knowing she was BRCA positive and we are eternally grateful for that knowledge. Knowing I’m BRCA positive has afforded me the ability to make life decisions and have preventable surgeries to maintain my health. The knowledge
of being BRCA has been invaluable to my family. I truly believe now that knowledge is power.

by Tovah Carr, Previvor, Vancouver, BC