One young Jewish woman goes public with her positive outlook—on testing positive for BRCA

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The author celebrating at her “tata to the tatas” party her friends threw for her pre-surgery.

Back in 2011, my father got tested for the BRCA gene mutation as a result of his family history with breast, ovarian, and prostate cancer.  Unfortunately, he was BRCA positive. At the time I was 20 years old and knew I would need to be tested in the near future.

I met with a geneticist in November 2016.  He explained to me what my options would be if I were positive or negative.  Because I had known for almost six years that I needed to get tested, I was already prepared for that conversation.  My mind was already made up that I would have a double mastectomy if the results came back positive.

When the geneticist called to tell me I was BRCA positive, the tone in her voice was disheartening, while I didn't think much of the news.  Confused, she asked me if I was alright.  I was perfectly fine.  Sure, it was a bummer to hear, but the thing is while my dad's side is BRCA positive, my mom's side is BRCA negative, and throughout the past few years I watched my maternal aunt, grandma, and cousin get diagnosed with breast cancer, indicating that there is some sort of genetic mutation on my mom's side of the family that is causing breast cancer, leaving me at a high risk from both sides, with or without BRCA. 

I began to educate myself on BRCA and made any necessary appointments to get my ovaries and breasts checked.  I already had my mind made up that I would get a double mastectomy, but initially assumed this wouldn't happen until my 30s.  My OBGYN and I agreed that now would realistically be the best time to do it because I am still on my parents' excellent health insurance, I do not have a family to care for yet, and I have a job that is incredibly supportive and allows me to take any needed time off. 

My thought was I would be getting tested twice a year until the day the doctor would tell me that I had cancer.  Considering all of the information I had, it seemed silly not to have surgery-and to never have to worry again.  To me, going through a few weeks of recovering from surgery easily beat out the idea of eventually going through chemo or radiation, not to mention everything else that comes along with a cancer diagnosis.

I didn't know how to tell people because I didn't want anyone to worry about me.  Once some friends of mine started to find out, I began getting frantic, worried calls.  I assured my friends that I'm totally fine, and I'm not scared so they shouldn't be either! 

Eventually I shared the news on Facebook, thinking this was a good way to break the ice to friends and family.  Although I was so grateful to receive so much love and support from friends and family, people were very sad for me, while I felt great about my decision.  I know it came from only the most loving place in their hearts, but it upset me to see everyone hurt for me, when I genuinely felt that this was an amazing opportunity that I am lucky enough to take advantage of in this day and age.   

I thought people were talking about breast cancer, but started to realize after sharing my news, that maybe they weren't really talking about it. I decided to start an Instagram blog called "2ndBaseWithJMH."  The purpose of my blog is to educate and inspire people to consider getting genetically tested, think about taking necessary actions, and feel great about it!  

BRCA mutations occur more than 10 times as frequently among Ashkenazi Jews than in the general population, and can substantially increase lifetime risk for breast and ovarian cancers in women, male breast cancer and prostate cancer in men, and pancreatic cancer among both women and men. For more information, visit JewishGenetics.org.

Jordyn Harris is a Missions Associate in JUF's Missions Department.



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