Last week I met with a genetic counselor. Here’s why: My family history presents several red flags that may warrant genetic testing for hereditary cancer.

1. Cancer diagnosed at a younger age than expected for the general population (</= 50 for most cancers). My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer at 33-years-old, and my father was diagnosed with colon cancer at age 45.

2. Cancer diagnosed across generations and in multiple generations within a family. Cancer is present in several branches of my family tree.

3. Individual with multiple primary cancers (either in paired organs or in different organs). My mother was also diagnosed with colon cancer at age 46.

Taking all of this into account, I made the decision to go ahead and have genetic testing done. Honestly, in my gut I don’t believe I have a hereditary predisposition to developing cancer; I think my family has just had a stroke of incredibly bad luck. Shit happens, you know? Still, I’d like to rule out gene mutations from my general lifetime risk if I can.

My session with the genetic counselor was pretty straight-forward; she reviewed my family history and assessed my overall risk. She evaluated to the best of her ability how I might cope with a positive test result and explained the immediate and long-term decisions I’d have to make regarding screening and/or prophylactic measures.

It’s a lot to process, especially as a young woman who doesn’t know when — or even if — she’ll have kids listening to an almost casual discussion about possibly having to remove my ovaries by the time I’m 35.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

I’m having done what’s called a sequencing panel that simultaneously analyzes up to 28 genes (including BRCA 1 and 2 and Lynch Syndrome) that contribute to increased risk for breast, colon, ovarian, uterine, and other cancers. I won’t have the results for another 10-12 weeks.

Because this particular test includes a number of genes of which little is known, my counselor expressed concern in the possibility of my being positive for one of these genes. A lot is known about BRCA; a patient who tests positive for BRCA is screened in clearly defined management guidelines. There’s some sense of security in that. Discovering you carry of a gene mutation that has been associated with brain cancer or leukemia, cancers for which there isn’t routine screening, can be unsettling.

For me, genetic counseling is an opportunity to be proactive rather than reactive. Regardless of whether or not I carry BRCA or Lynch Syndrome, I’ll still begin early cancer screenings. Good or bad, I see my genetic makeup as providing my physicians with better insight into what preventive measures to prescribe.

Enough speculating. We’ll see what the results show.

Have you had (or considered having) genetic testing?

Other features of a person’s personal or family medical history that may suggest a hereditary cancer syndrome can be found here.

If you’re considering genetic testing, check out this list of things to consider.

I’d heard from a lot of you that as much as you liked the SETC cotton originals, a shirt you could actually run in without that terrible chafing business would be even better. (Hindsight is 20/20, right?)

WELL, YOU GOT IT! I am incredibly excited to introduce the newest line of Still Easier Than Chemo technical running shirts!

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All thanks to this guy. Jason Todd, owner of Flat-Out Events a local race management company that puts on the popular Chick-Fil-A 5k and the upcoming Run for the Dream 8k and half marathon, generously donated a stack of race shirts. That blue look familiar? It might if you participated in last year’s Cancer Hater Challenge; Flat-Out donated the race shirts for that event too. THANKS, JASON!

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Head over to shop.stilleasierthanchemo.com to snag yours (and quick, it’s a small batch). They’re $20 each and a portion of the net proceeds of each shirt sold will go toward Sarah’s goal of raising $10,000 for childhood cancer research.

I can’t wait to see you guys put cancer on the run in these. Even more exciting? I WANT YOUR SELFIES!

Here’s the deal: Wear your Still Easier Than Chemo shirt on race day, snap a photo of your awesomeness, and send them to me at briana@stilleasierthanchemo.com Each week, I’ll share your SETC selfies and stories here on the blog.

Stay tuned! I hope you’re as excited as I am!

Two down, ten to go!

HyannisHalf

I ran the Hyannis Half Marathon in honor of a 2-year-old whom I met at my radiation oncology clinic last June. The day before meeting him, I had attempted to run for the first time since finishing chemotherapy and recovering from pneumocystis pneumonia. Not surprisingly, I made it about one block before having to sit down, coughing and struggling to breathe. I felt like a fish out of water. Over and over, all I could think was, “This isn’t fair.” My heart has been battered by Adriamycin treatments and bombarded with toxic radiation. Bleomycin has permanently scarred my lungs, and my risk for secondary cancers and even relapsing again is incredibly high. Nothing about my situation seemed fair.

But then I met Lucas. He had been diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia when he was just six months old, and was receiving radiation as palliative care. Cancer cells were bursting outside of his marrow and breaking his bones; he had just weeks to live. After meeting Lucas, my world changed. I realized that no matter how much my lungs have degraded, all that matters is that they still inflate. Even if my heart has been abused by chemo, all I need is for it to beat. And regardless of the circumstances I have been given in the past, all I have to do is be grateful for what I have right now.

I went running again the same day I met Lucas and managed to run ten minutes without stopping. While ten minutes may not seem like much, that was a huge milestone for my previously tumor-ridden body. Now, eight months later, I can run over 13 miles without stopping. I shaved 40 minutes off of last month’s finish time, and I owe it all to Lucas. I will never forget this boy who taught me how to truly live. One day, there will be more treatment options.

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