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When Amy Yoffe first learned that she tested positive for a BRCA1 gene mutation, she felt an overwhelming need to “take action”. She wasn’t quite sure what that action would be, but she knew it was important to regain a sense of control. She thought about her great-grandmother who died of breast cancer at age 35, leaving behind her four-year-old grandmother and her four young children. She thought about her grandmother, diagnosed with ovarian cancer at just 24 years old, and then breast cancer at age 65, again at 70, and colon cancer at 75. She wondered what decisions she needed to make in order to reduce her own cancer risk and who would be there to help guide and support her as she made those decisions. Then, Amy was introduced to Brenda Lam, who invited her to a FORCE meeting in Los Angeles. At this meeting, she met women who were educating themselves on how to manage and reduce their cancer risk while supporting one another in the process. She quickly decided to have an oophorectomy, followed by a double mastectomy with reconstruction. She felt empowered by FORCE to make educated decisions and find healthcare providers who understood how to manage her risk. She also discovered that she would have support every step of the way.
FORCE inspired Amt to pay it forward by starting the West Valley/Ventura Support Group in 2011. She was then joined by Brenda Lam and Marlene Cunningham, who have brought their own moving stories and experiences that make their team complete. Brenda had no family history of cancer until her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 42. This led to the discovery that Brenda and several of her family members carry a BRCA2 gene mutation. Since this discovery, her family has been affected by both pancreatic and primary peritoneal cancer. Brenda has had a total hysterectomy, is doing breast surveillance, and recently began a surveillance protocol for pancreatic cancer.
Marlene’s decision to test for a BRCA mutation was driven by her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis at the young age of 27, with a recurrence 10 years later and a current diagnosis of uterine cancer. In 2009, Marlene learned that she carries a BRCA1 mutation and she scheduled a prophylactic double mastectomy to reduce her breast cancer risk. A few days after her surgery, her surgical oncologist called to tell her that the pathology report showed early stage, triple negative breast cancer. It was very unexpected news and a tremendous validation that she made to right decision.
Each of their stories is unique, and they reflect the diversity in the journeys of those who attend our support meetings. They are fortunate to have built relationships with doctors and genetic counselors in the community who are an integral part of our network. They also enjoy meeting for coffee with individuals who are unable to come to their meetings but are in need of support. FORCE has made such a difference in their lives and as outreach leader volunteers they want to be sure that nobody has to walk this hereditary cancer journey alone.