People of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are ten times more likely to carry a BRCA gene mutation that heightens a person’s risk of certain cancers, including ovarian. Talya Schneider shares her story in the hope that more Jewish families can stay together, for longer.
I was not surprised when I discovered I had a BRCA2 gene mutation. Actually, it was a complete and utter relief to be told the news because I knew I had the option to reduce my risk of cancer. My mum didn’t have that choice. She passed away when I was 14. She was just 45.
After her death, I lived with the feeling that cancer was coming for me. It didn’t keep me awake at night but it was there at the back of my mind. I remember talking to my husband - quite early in our relationship - about my desire to have a family but how concerned I was that I would not be around to see my children grow up. I didn’t want to miss out on their lives, like my mum had with us, or leave him to raise them by himself, alongside the devastation of losing a parent to cancer - a pain that I’ve now been through twice.
My mother’s first cousin in Israel had mentioned ‘BRCA’ to me a number of times after her own cancer experience had led to her finding out she carried a BRCA2 gene mutation. In Israel, genetic testing is very advanced. Her study of the family revealed a large cancer history on my mother’s side; in fact four of my grandfather’s siblings, and a number of his immediate cousins, had developed one of the BRCA2 related high-risk cancers. People with Ashkenazi Jewish heritage are ten times more likely to carry a BRCA gene mutation, which increases the likelihood of ovarian, breast and prostate cancer. Carriers have a 50% chance of passing it on to their child. And yet, even today, very few know anything about faulty BRCA genes.
Throughout my twenties I had a number of breast cancer scares. I was very lucky as they were always negative but I was terrified that one day I wouldn’t be. I asked my breast consultant about this thing called ‘BRCA’ but was told that it wasn’t relevant to me. It wasn’t until after my second child was born that my GP looked at my family history and asked whether I’d like to go for genetic testing. From there it was easy: I agreed, met a fantastic genetics counsellor and took the very simple blood test. The result came quickly and confirmed I carried a BRCA2 gene mutation.
"The more we talk openly about faulty BRCA genes, the more people will realise that they have this option to find out about their cancer risks.”Talya
After this I was given access to regular mammograms and ultrasounds. I had the support to make informed decisions about my health and I knew immediately that I wanted risk reducing surgery. In 2018, I had a double mastectomy. I woke from surgery laughing. My husband claimed it was the drugs; but, I remember just feeling so relieved that my breast cancer risk had been almost entirely removed. In the near future I will have my ovaries removed too, to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer.
Genetic testing has allowed me to take control of something I’d previously had no control over. In my opinion, knowledge is power and the more we talk openly about faulty BRCA genes, the more people will realise that they have this option to find out about their cancer risks.
You can explore your family history and hereditary risk by using our simple tool. It's suitable for both men and women. All you need is a few minutes and some information about your family history of cancer.