By: Tracy Milgram-Posner
It’s funny how life has certain events that occur that give you a life learning curve. No one really finds out about their family history until they’re young adult. You hear all the funny facts and jokes of stuff that happens when the family was growing up and maybe certain situations to teach you about life, but never the whole entire story. As you get older, you find out more personal information about your family history, but most importantly the genes that are passed down through family and this is my FAMILY history.
In 1922 my Poppy (my grandfather) at age 2 my came on a boat from Poland and arrived in New York Harbour through Ellis Island with his five brothers, Mom and Dad and lived in an area near the Grand Concourse in the Bronx, New York, walking up five flights of steps daily. My ancestors are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent which means a higher risk for certain diseases because of specific gene mutations. My great grandfather had cancer but, back then they were unable to identify which kind of cancer he had.
In 1967, my Poppy was diagnosed with lung cancer and was told he had 6 months to live. One month after diagnosies he had one lung removed and began cobalt treatments for 6 months 5 days a week. He was a warrior and fought long and hard with one lung for 30 years. In the late 80’s he was diagnosed with prostate cancer and fought that like the champ he was. As I watched my Poppy battle 2 cancers I often thought to myself Can I get cancer? Will I get cancer? I didn’t know anything about the BRCA genes! In 1995, the cancer returned in his sternum, close to where he had his first bout of cancer. He went for chemo once again even though the doctors told him Joe it is not going to help this time. He fought for almost 2 years before he lost his fight.
Speaking of family history 2 of the 5 of my Poppy’s brothers had cancer. One had prostate and the other had colon and prostate cancer. What’s in your genes?
Now let’s talk about my nana and her 2 sisters who are all breast cancer survivors. My Nana is my mom’s mom. Her oldest sister Selma was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 40’s (1960’s) and lost her battle after much suffering within one year of her diagnosis. Then we had my nana who in 1999 was diagnosed with breast cancer and had a lumpectomy with radiation. My Aunt Joan my Nana’s youngest sister had breast cancer as well with radiation and tamoxifen for 5 years.
My mom’s brother did the BRCA gene testing and came back negative but my second cousin Sandy (my Aunt Selma’s daughter) was BRCA 2 positive and also had a lumpectomy.
Based on family tree and cancer history in my family, to me it was a no brainer not to have genetic testing!
A little bit about me and how my whole journey started. My name is Tracy and I was diagnosed BRCA 2 positive at the age of 21 years old. My journey began when I had just graduated high school and found a lump in the shower when I was 18 years old, which led to a lumpectomy. Thank god this came back benign. One year later I had another lumpectomy which was also benign. After yearly checks at the age of 21 years old they found another lump. At the time I asked my breast surgeon what are my options and did he think it was cancerous. I decided to go under close prevalence with a close watch and MRI’s, mammograms and ultrasounds every 6 months. It was then I decided to have genetic testing done. I moved forward with genetic testing in 2004 and found out I was BRCA 2 positive.
Fast forward to 2015 I decided to move forward with the surgical preventative action against breast and ovarian cancer. The first procedure I underwent was a robotic hysterectomy and went into surgical menopause rather quickly. December 2015 I underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction. This journey has not been easy and can be overwhelming at times.
After multiple surgeries, I am in a great state of mind, healing well and feeling my most authentic self. During this journey I lost myself and now feeling whole again. As a woman it is important to know your family history due to everything that’s going on in life and in this world you will never know what’s going on with your body unless you’re constantly being checked. Don’t take any risk, your life is very valuable to you and your family.
Prior to starting my surgical journey I created a private group for women called BRCAStrong, this group was a safe place for women to talk about being a Previvior or Survivor and ask each other questions, support each other and guide one another as best as you could. I wanted to let other women know that they are not alone, never did I think that I would have over 2000 women members nationwide. In 2019, I officially decided to make BRCAStrong a 501c3.
BRCAStrong.org is a nonprofit 501c3 organization built on the very foundation of supporting Previvors and Survivors. Whether you are choosing the route of routine monitoring or preventative surgery, we can help you through the journey. The diagnosis can be overwhelming and isolating. You are not alone! BRCAStrong will navigate you through the process with others who are making the same decisions and facing the same fears. Empowering women living with mastectomies is imperative. We can help women network with the right foundation and physicians to properly support their needs.
“Our mission is to support, educate, inspire and empower Previvors and Survivors, to eliminate the feeling of isolation and helping you feel whole again.” BRCAStrong funds women who are in need of post mastectomy garments and lymphedema sleeves.
BRCAStrong strives to alleviate the emotional and financial burdens of women facing genetically predisposed breast and/or ovarian cancer through advocacy, direct assistance, empowerment, fundraising initiatives and events.
“My BRCA2gene started the fight but I am going to finish it.”
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