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Healthy Balance

Helen Darr: Peace of Mind from Negative Genetic Test Results

Patient Helen Darr, who got genetic testing for breast cancer
Helen Darr was relieved to discover she didn’t have the breast cancer gene.

When you find out someone in your family has cancer, you feel terrible for them. That’s happened to me three times. My mom died from ovarian cancer at 62. One of my sisters died from breast cancer. And I have another sister with breast cancer who’s already had to have a mastectomy.

As terrible as I feel for my sister, I was also very worried about my own health. If my sisters had breast cancer, was I destined to have it, too?

Rather than go through life worrying about it, I decided I wanted to know, one way or another. If the news was bad, at least I could prepare myself for a fight. I could know and wouldn’t have to live with the uncertainty.

That’s when I went to see Susan Modesitt, MD, at UVA’s High Risk Breast and Ovarian Cancer Program. I heard they offered genetic testing that looks at your genetic makeup.

They compared mine to my sister, who had previously had breast cancer. It turns out I don’t have the gene she had, which is the one that brought on the cancer in her. The certified genetic counselor at the clinic explained it all to me. You can imagine how relieved I was to learn this.

I know it’s not 100 percent certain that I won’t ever get some kind of cancer. But at least I don’t have the same elevated risk that my sister had.

Now I can get back to spending more time with my grandchildren and living life without waiting for the other shoe to drop. I think anyone who is in the same situation I was in should get tested.

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