By Carissa Miyano
An unknown family risk
I learned about the possibility of a BRCA2 mutation about one year ago. Growing up, I did not have contact with my biological father, who is from Japan. At the same time that I learned of his passing, I also learned that it was from prostate cancer and that he had a BRCA2 mutation. I had just started a new job, moved to a new city, and was in a new relationship. It was tough to learn this news on top of all of that. I soon met with a genetic counselor and underwent testing. I learned of my mutation a few weeks later.
During this time, I was grieving a relationship I never had and a person I never knew. At the same time, I was trying to fit into a new lifestyle due to the many changes happening in my life. In fact, the moment I found out I had the mutation, I was on my way to an outing with my new co-workers. I felt a mixture of emotions. I was relieved that I knew the results. But, at the same time, I was filled with anxiety. My body felt like a ticking time bomb. But knowing was also the key to empowerment. I thought, “Now that I have this information, I can change my future by being carefully screened and electing to have preventative surgeries.”
Finding support through community
Before my first MRI, I talked with a FORCE Peer Navigator over the phone. She told me her story – the experience of getting her first breast MRI and how she found out about her BRCA2 mutation. It was so meaningful to be able to talk to someone who knew exactly what I was going through. At the time, I felt like no one could truly understand the mix of emotions I felt. But talking with another previvor helped me work through this.
To me, FORCE means taking power over something you cannot change. You're allowed to grieve for yourself. You're allowed to grieve for body parts that you may lose. You're allowed to feel guilty that you have this knowledge, while others did not get to know their genetic status.
You will get through this. Talk to someone that knows what you're going through and the unique set of feelings that you have. FORCE's Peer Navigation program is a great step to talk to other members who have gone through the same thing you are going through. It will get better!
The journey begins with awareness
My hope is that more people will become aware of hereditary cancer mutations. I hope people understand the effect these mutations have on the individuals that have them, as well as their families. Genetic mutations change lives - body parts are lost, having children becomes a complicated puzzle and the psychological effects are tremendous. The more awareness and research that is done, the more that cancer due to these mutations can be prevented.
Carissa Miyano, BRCA2 Previvor