May 23, 2018
Real Stories

Meet Gail

I'm Gail and this is my story...

It’s early in the morning on May 30, 1968.

Three young girls giggle as they wake up their father who is sleeping in his bed. They are sitting cross legged on his bed chatting when…

Gail and her two sisters.

The phone rang

Their father leaves the room and walks into the kitchen to answer the phone. After a brief conversation, he returns to his three beautiful girls.

With a broken heart, and quietly tells them;

“That was the hospital… Mommy passed away last night.”

My name is Gail and I'm a BRCA1

My mother passed away when I was 6 and I was the youngest of the three girls.

My mother, Joan Carol Doherty, was only 35 when she lost her life to breast cancer. She had been diagnosed 2 1/2 years earlier with carcinoma in the right breast with extensive bone metastasis. The cancer had spread to her bones and when she passed, she was paralyzed from the waist down. She had bravely committed to trying every operation and procedure that was available to save her life. Her body was tortured by the treatments and the cancer. My mother was a BRCA1, she did not know this.

When my mother was 15 years old, she witnessed her mother’s passing. My grandmother, Olga Fetcho Yenull, passed away when she was just 42 years of age from carcinoma of the ovary with generalized metastasis; ovarian cancer. My grandmother was a BRCA1.

My grandmother had 4 sisters and 6 brothers. My mother’s Aunt Eleanor passed from ovarian cancer, Aunt Anna from Breast cancer, and Aunt Lois from ovarian cancer along with her daughter Shannon from ovarian cancer. Uncle Mathew and Uncle Allen’s had daughters and they both passed from ovarian cancer. Uncle Henry passed from pancreatic cancer. (Both men and women with harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutations are at increased risk of pancreatic cancer.) They are all BRCA1.

A mutation was found in the BRCA1 gene

In 2004, at the age of 42, I ventured to learn if I too was born with a mutated gene. I contacted a Genetic specialist in this area of this science. I was asked to supply her with my family history. After review, it was apparent that my family might have the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation.

My Great Aunt Lois, who was alive and battling her cancer, had agreed to have the blood test. The Genetic specialist wanted to see if they could find a mutated gene. They found a mutation, and then through my blood test, found that I was an exact match to my Great Aunt Lois.

It was with mixed emotion that I learned that I carried the BRCA1 gene; I was sadden to think that I could have passed my mutated BRCA1 gene to my children. I was appreciative that now, with this knowledge, I could take steps to protect myself from the cancer that my body is not designed to fight.

Fear of the unknown was now substituted with positive steps forward.

What is BRCA1

The BRCA1 (for BReast CAncer gene), was discovered in 1994, and the BRCA2, in 1995. The search for other genes continues. Today over 100 different alterations scattered throughout BRCA1 have been identified. In general, most families have a unique alteration.

Everyone has BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. The function of the BRCA genes is to repair cell damage and keep breast cells growing normally. But when these genes contain abnormalities or mutations that are passed from generation to generation, the genes don't function normally and breast and ovarian cancer risk increases.

With knowledge comes choices

In 2005 I choose to have a have both ovaries and both Fallopian tubes removed and breast screenings every 3 month.

In 2006, my doctor told me that my mammogram showed a “very, very scary spot” on my left side. I choose to have a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. The right side, which appeared to have no issues, was found to contain stage 0 breast cancer. Stage 0 breast cancer is difficult to detect. This is the very early stage of breast cancer.

Continuing research

We know that finding breast cancer early, when it's easiest to treat, can mean the difference between life and death. Breast cancer incidence and death rates are declining; more people are beating this disease thanks to early detection through mammograms and improved treatment methods.

But there is still much more scientific research that needs to be performed.

Good News!

I continue to stay healthy and the good news is that my two sisters and my two children decided to participate in the gene test. Their test results showed that THEY DO NOT have the mutated BRCA1 gene.

May 30, 2018 will be 50 years since my mother’s passing and 50 years of milestones in the fight against cancer. For every milestone in cancer research, there are countless men and women to thank.

Support breast cancer charities life-saving initiative and start winning today!

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