What You Should Know About BRCA

DASHA® is thrilled to introduce members of the DASHA® community to Lisa Jey Davis, one of the “go-to” authorities on BRCA/ Breast and Ovarian Cancer.  Frequently invited to provide her expert opinions and commentary on related stories (i.e. Angelina Jolie’s choice), she has appeared on the Emmy Award-winning nationally syndicated television show The Doctors, and a variety of news programs and radio shows; she has also been quoted in newspapers, magazines and online publications.  Below she shares her story:

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A few weeks ago I found myself at the gynecologic oncologist’s office having a biopsy of my endometrial tissue.  A pelvic ultrasound had turned up something of minimal concern, so there I was.

Why was I there if it was of “minimal concern?”  It’s a long story, but in my case even a minimal concern must be investigated.

You see, I watched painfully as my beautiful sister deteriorated and finally succumbed to Ovarian Cancer after a grueling seven-year battle in 2010.  So, in 2011 I was tested and found positive for the BRCA2 genetic mutation.  To be clear, I do not have and I have never had cancer.  I’m what they call a “previvor.”

Despite the conservative alternatives presented to me, I couldn’t schedule my surgeries fast enough.  I underwent a prophylactic double mastectomy and breast reconstruction one month, and an oophorectomy (removal of my fallopian tubes and ovaries) the next.  I understood the validity of taking a conservative approach, especially for women who still wanted to have children, or were attached to their breasts (no pun intended).  I’d had two kids who were older now, and I’d already had a breast lift to correct some other issues, so this was a no-brainer for me.

I was rather upset about this biopsy, however.  Not only did I believe I’d already taken care of all these concerns when I underwent my surgeries, but this new concern presented itself somewhat unexpectedly.  Plus, biopsies are just plain scary if you’re looking for cancer!

It’s not that the genetics counselors didn’t educate me.  They were very helpful and provided me with all of the statistics and risk factors (before and after surgeries).  They made sure I was aware that I was never 100% in the clear, and that I had an elevated risk for other types of cancers as well (skin, stomach, endometrial, uterine, etc.).

I guess I just never thought about how any “other” risks would affect my everyday life. And do you know what?  No one ever sat me down and spelled everything out in plain English, either.  Aside from discussing the risks and preventative measures available, no one went over the practical side of things with me.  The perfect script would have read as such:

“Here is how your life may look moving forward.  After your surgeries, you’ll immediately enter into menopause.  That’s what happens when your body stops producing hormones.  Because of your age (and the fact you or your sister did not have Breast Cancer), it’s advisable you take hormones, and that in and of itself will be a work in progress.  You will notice weight gain, persistent water retention, changes to your skin and hair follicle, and other side effects of menopause (Hormone Replacement Therapy has its own set of side effects and risks).  Because of your mutation, which elevates your risk in so many areas, you’ll be destined to a life of diligent screenings and tests.  We’ll want to closely monitor anything that happens to you, even if it’s slight.  Since you’re keeping your uterus, for example, if we happen to see a speck in a screening, we’ll want to biopsy it, even though we wouldn’t probably consider a biopsy of that small speck in someone without the mutation.”

If only they’d said things like that to me!  How the months of trying trial-and-error hormone replacement therapies, the unpleasant changes to my body, energy and libido levels, skin and hair…the biopsy for this little speck– how all of that would have been so much more…palatable.  Can you imagine if I’d known these things going in?  Talk about an informed decision!

Do I regret my decision?  Hell, no.  I’m grateful for the age in which I live, where bio identical hormones made from plants are the norm…where my risks can be traced and options provided.  Other diseases with genetic predispositions (addiction, celiac disease, etc.) are not so easy to pin down and involve multiple genes and mutations.  It’s tricky business, and I do believe we still take a shot in the dark when it comes to genetics and treatments.  In my case, I (and countless others before me) had only the science of statistics to act on.  But I am also grateful for my health and the fact I am here today to fly the banner of being proactive and informed about personal health.  I do it all in memory of my lovely sister, whom I know would have done the same for me.

BRCA2 Chart

If a close relative has suffered or succumbed to Breast or Ovarian Cancer, you may want to be screened for the genetic mutation.  It could save your life.

For more information about the BRCA 1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations, you can go to: FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer, Empowered) at http://www.facingourrisk.org/index.php

A successful busiesswoman, award-winning writer and Huffington Post blogger Lisa Jey’s dynamic presence and internet/media footprint have made her an in-demand guest expert on the subject of women’s health and fitness.  To learn more, visit http://www.lisajeydavis.com/.

DASHA® wellness & spa is a luxury lifestyle brand and New York City-based wellness center created to offer a truly holistic approach to wellness. To learn more, visit dashawellness.com.