(10/26/12) - Saturday will be a special celebration of life for a Midland mother and daughter - they are both breast cancer survivors.
On the eve of the two largest Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walks in Mid-Michgian, they have a message to share with other families.
"My mom was in her late 40's when she was diagnosed with breast cancer, her mother also died of breast cancer, and two of my mom's sisters also had breast cancer," says Joanne Piechotte.
And then, it happened to her. "I found my lump when I was 34 years old. I had a lumpectomy."
Joanne's doctor suggested a trip to U of M for genetic testing but, since her insurance did not cover the test, doctors there suggested something else. "Act like you have the gene and treat your children like they have a gene. They never got tested because at that time at that age, a pre-existing condition was something that would follow them into adulthood."
Joanne did what she could to protect her two daughters. "I made sure that they knew how to do self breast exams and kept them in line to make sure they were checking themselves on a regular basis."
That one precaution paid off, says her daughter, Sara Stevenson. "I was doing my monthly checks and I did find something."
That "something" was breast cancer. Sara was just 31 years old at the time. "When I was diagnosed, my oncologist had me find out if I had the gene, and I found out that I have it. My sister was able to have the test and she did not have the gene."
Since Sara tested positive to the BRCA 1 gene, she will have her three-month old son tested, as well. "Boys and girls can have the gene, so I will have him checked."
Now a survivor, like her mother, whether her child tests positive, Sara will tell him the same thing she would tell anyone - to stay on guard for cancer.
"Always do your monthly checks, even if you don't have the gene, you can still get breast cancer early. I think it is very important to do the checks."
The BRCA mutations are also linked to uterine and ovarian cancers, which is why women often choose preventative hysterectomy. That is something Sara plans on doing - perhaps after they have one more child.
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