A friend, Marni Berkowitz Kaner, died of breast cancer on Sept. 15. She was only 51.
Like too many women, Marni did not find out that she carried a BRCA2 mutation until after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Marni shared frequent updates about her journey on social media, always staying positive and posting photos of her smiling through round after round of chemo and many trips to the hospital over the past two years.
“I always admire your attitude,” I messaged her once.
“No other way to do it!” she responded.
Marni and her husband were married for 28 years and had a grown son and daughter. A former teacher, she was a fierce PTA advocate and leader. She lived life to the fullest though treatment and celebrated her 50th birthday at Disneyland. In early September, Marni posted on Facebook with “relief and a heavy heart” that she was ending her cancer treatment and going into palliative care. She died at home, with her family at her side.
This year has been a painful reminder that breast cancer often strikes women with BRCA mutations at much younger ages. In January, the writer Elizabeth Wurtzel, who carried a BRCA mutation, died after battling breast cancer for five years. She was 52.
Like Marni, the Prozac Nation author found out she carried a BRCA variant after she was diagnosed with breast cancer.
“I could have had a mastectomy with reconstruction and skipped the part where I got cancer,” the Prozac Nation author wrote in a 2015 New York Times article that urged women with Ashkenazi Jewish descent, like her, to get tested.
One in forty people with Ashkenazi Jewish descent carry BRCA mutations, while about one in 500 in the general population are affected.
Genetic testing for BRCA mutations gives women the chance to be proactive with extra screenings or risk-reducing surgeries. I was very fortunate to have discovered that I carry a BRCA2 mutation before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, as I wrote in my book, Probably Someday Cancer: Genetic Risk and Preventative Mastectomy. After I finally worked up the courage to have a risk-reducing double mastectomy in 2016, the pathology found that I already had very early-stage breast cancer, DCIS.
More women, especially women with Ashkenazi Jewish descent, like Marni, need to be informed about genetic testing so, if they carry a mutation, or variant, they can get extra screenings or consider risk-reducing surgery.
Should you consider genetic testing? Read more at Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.
Knowledge is power. It could save your life.
Thank you to Marni's family for permission to use her photo.