To celebrate Breast Cancer Awareness Month (though we take care all year!), we at Westchester County Mom were invited to an informative event about BRCA, Breast Health, and Fertility at the beautiful Bedford Playhouse. The evening was hosted by RMA of New York – Westchester, the local team of RMA of New York, which operates 14 fertility clinic offices and four IVF laboratories in the New York area.
I attended with my Mamaroneck/Scarsdale-based friend Elana Zimmerman, a Westchester-born-and-raised Licensed Real Estate Agent and “previvor” who proudly advocates for women to take control of their health (she did so herself upon testing positive for a breast cancer gene). As a social worker specializing in supporting women, I share with Elana the belief that women should unapologetically assert themselves to get the care they need and deserve.
The event was beautiful (lots of pink!), fun (movie snacks and a beautiful balloon display!), and, most importantly, inspiring (we heard from panelists, including a breast cancer survivor and BRCA carrier who engaged in genetic IVF to ensure her children did not also carry the gene). Journalist and mom Jenna Wolfe moderated the conversation with expert physicians and geneticists Matthew Lederman, MD (REI, Practice Director, RMA of NY Westchester), Valentin Kolev, MD (Gynecologic Oncologist, Mount Sinai Chelsea), Stephanie Bernik, MD (Chief of Breast Surgery, Mount Sinai West), and Kristine McWilliams, MD, PhD (Medical Director, Genomics CooperSurgical).
Here are some important lessons we learned.
Knowledge is Power
Ask for genetic testing from your primary care physician or OBGYN, especially if cancer runs in your family. You deserve to make informed choices about your health and family and to know what to monitor! Tests typically involve a simple saliva sample. Insurance often covers genetic testing costs, and there are also private testing services like 23andMe or JScreen.
Plan for Yourself and Your Future Family
There have been amazing advances in genetic counseling and reproductive health in recent years. If you are dealing with a cancer gene or diagnosis, you can collaborate with your doctor to engage in fertility preservation and family planning. Many of my clients and friends have frozen their eggs before undergoing chemotherapy or have worked with their healthcare teams to create embryos that do not share their cancer genes. Financial support may be accessible through charities like Worth the Wait, which provides fertility and adoption grants for cancer survivors. Though you might face some difficult decisions in this journey, you have options regarding your health and that of your future family.
Give Back in Various Ways
Cancer touches all of us, some more directly than others. Fortunately, many opportunities exist to give back to those experiencing health struggles. For example, we spoke with women representing the American Cancer Society Road to Recovery program, which arranges free rides to cancer-related medical appointments. Sign up to volunteer locally (at times convenient for you!) here.
Talk About It
Many women feel overwhelmed and isolated by genetic test results and what the consequences are for their health and families. Talking about it with loved ones, mental health professionals, or peer support groups can be key to feeling empowered. Whether you are a previvor, thriver, survivor, volunteer, healthcare provider, friend, or family member affected by breast cancer, know that you are not alone. We are stronger together!