SACRAMENTO – When her daughter was diagnosed with breast cancer, Margaret Finch’s nursing skills kicked into overdrive and she threw herself into caring for her and aiding in her recovery. Ms. Finch didn’t know that the roles would soon reverse and her daughter would be helping her wage the same battle.
Today, Ms. Finch, 72, and her daughter Vanessa Blakley, 53, share a special bond as survivors as well as a desire to help other families make choices that could save their lives.
Life wasn’t exactly smiling on Ms. Blakley in 2009. She was in a bad relationship, she got laid off of work and had to move in with her sister after losing her apartment. But there was a bright spot–she still had medical benefits thanks to a severance package. She went for her annual mammogram and the results showed she was fine.
A few months later, however, she was anything but. After experiencing pain in her breasts, she went to see the doctor.
“They found three different lumps in three different places. They were 2.5 centimeters each,” Ms. Blakley shared.
“My life just flashed in front of my eyes,” she said.
An answer came just as quickly.
“I started praying. I said ‘Lord, I repent from worrying, but tell me what I should do with this,’” she said.
Faith would play a huge role in what would happen next.
Having been diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer in March 2010, Ms. Blakley had a mastectomy on her left breast on April 2 (Good Friday) and was released on Easter Sunday.
“I walked out of the hospital on Easter with a new, profound life,” she said.
Determined to get her life back on track, she focused on advancing her career and was certified in Human Resources, despite suffering from “chemo brain” while studying.
During that time, she also found Carrie’s TOUCH support and advocacy group.
Her mother was also “right there” through it all.
“I had no clue about breast cancer organizations,” Ms. Finch said.
“My daughter became a stickler on finding information on cancer research,” she added.
Ms. Finch was diagnosed this past April. She also had a mastectomy, but chose not to get an implant as her daughter did, or wear a prosthesis, due to her age. Having a daughter go through it previously, made it easier, she said.
“We kept a positive attitude and started working it. We took charge of that thing!” Ms. Finch said.
There were conference calls with doctors and more research.
“She got savvy about looking things up online,” her daughter said.
Ms. Finch found information about genetic testing and is now passionate about telling people, specifically African Americans, about it. She made her daughter watch a video on the topic and stayed on her about it.
The issue was brought to the forefront recently when White actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy, after genetic testing showed that due to family history, the risk was higher that she’d get breast cancer. She chose to be proactive and attack it, before it attacked her.
“It starts the dialogue,” Ms. Blakley said.
“This is another level that we as African American women need to get to,” she added.
After Ms. Blakley’s diagnosis, she says her mother revealed that an aunt, who had passed away from liver cancer, was also a breast cancer survivor. Her grandfather had liver and colon cancers.
Ms. Blakley also has two daughters. She says that she and her mother want the two younger women to be able to make informed decisions about their health.
“To make sure, my daughters need to stay on top of this,” Ms. Blakley added.
According to the National Cancer Institute, a woman’s risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in the BRCA1 gene or the BRCA2 gene. Men with these mutations also have an increased risk of breast cancer. Genetic tests can check for BRCA1 and BRCA2 mutations in people with a family history of cancer that suggests the possible presence of a harmful mutation in one of these genes.
If a harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation is found, several options are available to help a person manage their cancer risk.
The American Cancer Society suggests people ask a doctor about genetic testing if they have wither of the following:
- First-degree relatives (mother, father, sister, brother) with cancer, especially the same type of cancer;
- Cancers in the family that are known to be linked to a single gene mutation (for instance, breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancer);
- Family members who developed cancer at a young age;
- Close relatives with rare cancers that are linked to hereditary cancer syndromes;
- A physical finding that is linked to hereditary cancer (such as many colon polyps), or a known genetic mutation in the family (from one or more family members who have already had genetic testing.
Ms. Finch and Ms. Blakley will be featured in Carrie’s TOUCH’s 2014 calendar of breast cancer survivors. This year’s calendar has a focus on how cancer impacts families.
“I’m glad being a part of something that’s going to be of help,” Ms. Finch shared.