A Father’s Legacy: Breast Cancer?

Angelina Jolie publicly outed the difficult medical choices that women face. Her story, however is not unique. My friend Tana Senn faced a similar situation in the last few years. Here is Tana´s story in her own words:

TanaSenn_HeadshotIn 2011, I had a risk-reducing oophorectomy (removing my ovaries and fallopian tubes).

Like Angelina Jolie, I have the BRCA1 gene mutation—an oft-mentioned link to breast and ovarian cancer that is often passed on from one generation to the next.

Unlike Jolie, neither my mother nor my grandmother had breast cancer, ovarian cancer or the BRCA1 gene mutation. I inherited it from my father.

In 2010, my dad was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. As doctors looked into his health history, they recommended he take the test for BRCA1.

While it is rarely discussed, other cancers like pancreatic cancer can also be linked to the BRCA1 gene mutation, even though it’s most closely associated with breast cancer and ovarian cancer, which usually has deadly implications given the difficulties of early detection.

When my dad disclosed the news that he was a carrier, I took the test…with much trepidation.

A few weeks later, I received the call – I carried the BRCA1 gene mutation.

I was angry, distraught, scared and in disbelief.

I am also a mother. I had to do something in the face of the 50 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.

Instead of being angry at the genetic news, my doctor advised, be grateful. There are so many diseases out there that we can’t detect early. Or if we do know a genetic marker for them, there isn’t always something we can do about it.  BRCA1 is different. An oophorectomy and mastectomy can take the 50 percent chance of ovarian cancer and the 87 percent likelihood of breast cancer down to less than 5 percent.

I knew I was done with having children, so I addressed the risk of ovarian cancer first. I acted on my knowledge, not my fears, and made a medical decision to improve my outcomes.

A few weeks shy of my 40th birthday, I had an oophorectomy and hysterectomy.  My risk for ovarian and cervical cancers is virtually gone. The surgery also decreased my chances of breast cancer.

Every six months I monitor for breast cancer by having an MRI or a mammogram.  The stress of bi-annual tests is likely to lead me to a prophylactic mastectomy in the future.  But whatever I choose, I will be acting based on powerful medical knowledge.

With my surgery and dad’s death further behind me now, I’m blessed with a new perspective on the entire experience. The key thing with learning your family history and bolstering our knowledge with genetic testing is an ability to make informed decisions and ultimately go on with our lives.

– Tana Senn lobbied for federal legislation to prevent insurance and employment discrimination based on genetic factors, even before her own diagnosis. Currently, she is a Mercer Island City Councilmember.

– At Permission Slips we believe strongly that women need to advocate for their health and take better care of themselves. We are so happy for Tana and her family.



  1. […] A Father’s Legacy: Breast Cancer – Permission to take genetics seriously (Carol) […]

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