Stephanie Williams, BRCA 2 mutation

The youngest of six children, I learned the devastating impact of cancer at the age of eight when we lost my 18-year-old brother to Hodgkin’s lymphoma, a cancer of the lymphatic system. 

In later years, cancer continued to plague my family, when we lost both my mother and my father to the disease. As adults, all three of my remaining brothers have been diagnosed with various forms of cancer. There is no denying that cancer is “in my family,” and my sister and I have always been nervous that it’s not a matter of IF we will get cancer but WHEN.

Because of my family history, I decided to get some genetic testing. One of the mutations I could have tested for is in the BRCA genes. A woman’s lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes. However, because I did not have a family history of breast cancer, and because the testing was very expensive at that time and not covered by insurance, I did not choose to do the test for the BRCA gene mutations.

Years later, when a very dear friend, also without a family history of breast cancer, discovered that she had the BRCA2 mutation, I realized that it was foolish not to complete my genetic testing. I was stunned to discover that I was positive for the BRCA2 mutation. Never wanting to let any grass grow under me and with the unwavering support of my husband and children, I immediately made the decision to have prophylactic ovary and fallopian tube removal as well as a double mastectomy. I have never regretted my decision for one moment.

The loss of my brother at such a young age set me up to be very aware of illness symptoms throughout my entire life. I have always known the importance of listening to my body and taking action when something isn’t right. Knowing the details about my family’s health history has always propelled me to talk with my health care providers and seek answers about my own health. Because of the knowledge I gained through genetic testing, I made major health decisions that were right for me and have never looked back.

I have also inspired my family, particularly my husband, Luke, to think differently about health and healthcare. Before this journey, Luke was someone who would generally ignore subtle symptoms and doctor visits. Through my experience, he now sees the life-saving benefit of knowing your body, knowing when something is different and knowing your family history. 

Knowledge truly IS power.