Wednesday, May 15, 2013

What the BRCA gene mutation means for my family

“Mommy, when I’m a mommy will I have to get cancer, too?”

My 5-year-old daughter asked me this a few months ago. I was hoping she wouldn’t remember that I ever went through cancer. But something jogged her memory of the days that mommy lay sick in bed for days after each round of chemo.

How’s a mommy supposed to answer this – especially knowing that, like Angelina Jolie, I have a BRCA gene mutation that I passed on to my daughter?

(For the record, that’s where the similarities between me and Ms. Jolie end. In fact, she’s got a BRCA-1 mutation; mine’s BRCA-2).

Because the BRCA 2 mutation is recessive, as long as my husband passed along a healthy BRCA gene, she should be OK. I hope that’s the case and that my daughter doesn’t have to go through what I went through.

At 33, I was diagnosed with stage 2 breast cancer. My son was 11 months old, and my daughter was not quite 3 years old. As if the diagnosis weren’t bad enough, I then learned through genetic testing that I have a BRCA 2 gene mutation.

Knowing that we have this gene on my side of the family is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, it’s great to be armed with information about our health so we can make decisions proactively. On the other hand, how do you answer your 5-year-old daughter when she wonders if she’s going to get cancer?

“Most mommies don’t get cancer, Boo,” was my answer.

I’ve avoided a lengthy discussion with so far, but she will continue to ask questions about this. And my answers will be honest. Age-appropriate, yes. But honest.

I’ll tell her that when she’s an adult, she will have to choose how to take control of her health. I will say that there is a possibility she has this gene mutation that could lead to breast or ovarian cancer (and colon cancer – BRCA mutations play a role in that, too).

I will encourage her to do self-exams of her breasts. I will even support her if she decides to do a mastectomy to prevent breast cancer from ever occurring – just so she doesn’t have to endure what I did.

And I can’t speak for Marcheline Bertrand, Angelina Jolie’s mother, who died at 56 of ovarian cancer in 2007. But I’m willing to go out on a limb to say she’d agree with me.

Melanie Median is a Sr. Communications Specialist at Texas Health Resources, Mom of two, and breast cancer survivor.


  1. Hello - I'd like to correct some misinformation - BRCA 1 and 2 mutations are inherited as autosomal dominant mutations

    That means, only one copy of the mutated gene is necessary to have an effect. Your daughter has a 50% chance of carrying your gene mutation.

    However, hopefully by the time she is 20-25 years old, which would be when she should begin screening, we will have made significant advances in the evaluation and treatment of patients with BRCA mutations.

    1. Dr. Attai, thank you so much for correcting the misinformation I included in my post. I obviously misunderstood information I have gathered along my journey.

      For anyone else who is interested, I found a story on the following link that explains this in a little more detail.