For Fiona Asple, choosing to undergo genetic counseling and testing to determine if she carried the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutations presented the opportunity to make proactive decisions about her health.
Fiona, 46, had seen the toll that cancer can take on a family: her paternal grandmother died from what the family believes was uterine cancer; two paternal aunts and one first cousin were diagnosed with breast cancer; one paternal cousin passed away at age 36 after a diagnosis of breast cancer; and, another aunt and one cousin had tested positive for the genetic mutation.
Fiona, who herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer at age 46, recognized that learning more about her genetic make-up would allow her to make empowered choices moving forward and to potentially turn the tide in her family: “I want to control my future health as much as possible,” she says. “Genetic testing provided the information I need to make the right decisions for my future health and provides current and future generations of my family with the information they need to make similar decisions.”
The process of counseling and testing was straight forward, Fiona says: “I had a preliminary meeting with a genetics counselor, who explained in detail the process and potential benefits to me and my family, which was followed by a simple blood test. Then, I had a follow-up meeting with the genetic counselor to review the test results and discuss next steps.”
Though the results of Fiona’s genetic test were positive, as she expected, she says that having concrete information about her genetic risk provided peace-of-mind. “We were not surprised. For me, it made planning my future health actions a lot easier.” And, she adds, knowing that she had been at increased risk provided a welcome, logical explanation for her earlier cancer diagnosis, and a roadmap for the future: “Had the results come back with no BRCA gene mutation, I would have asked myself why I was so unlucky to get ovarian cancer. It would have also led to a lot more anxiety about where cancer might show up again. The results I got provided me with an answer to the question 'why did I get cancer?’ and enabled me to plan what I need to do next.”
Fiona knows that the decision to undergo genetic testing is a personal—and often difficult—choice. Still, she says she would encourage families to explore the option. “I would explain to them that the peace of mind it brought me and the information it provides to other family members is invaluable.”