February 19, 1989. It was a cold and very rainy day. I truly believed that the angels up above were crying along with us as our family buried my father. His death certificate stated that he died from Hepatic failure. His liver could not hold out against all of the chemicals pumped in over the course of chemotherapy he received during his five year bout with breast cancer.
A man with breast cancer? Yes, my father was diagnosed with breast cancer. What was really amazing medically was that in the year 1984, the oncologist my father saw had four other men with breast cancer at our small (in those years) local hospital. Every week, my dad had an infusion of chemo as well as taking tamoxifen. Even though the doctor told my parents that dad was only expected to live for 6 months, he fought valiantly for 10 times that prediction.
Today, he would have received dose dense chemotherapy and maybe even radiation. What he went through seems so antiquated compared to today's therapies. Due to his bout with breast cancer, I was tested at Fox Chase Cancer Center and routinely participate in the Margaret Dyson Family Risk Assessment Center (now known as the Risk Assessment Program, http://www.fccc.edu/prevention/riskAssessment/staff.html). My father's frozen tissue sample from his original pathology and my blood samples determined that we both carried the BRCA2 genetic mutation. In 1996 when I found out this information, I received concise and informative genetic counseling as do all participants in the RAP at FCCC. We mapped out a plan of action and so far, as I have followed it, I am cancer-free even having discovered that I was at Stage 0 with DCIS at the time of my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy.
My father's death was a horrible experience but through it and less than 10 years later, I was able to avoid what my breast surgeon had told me was a certain outcome; it was only a matter of time before breast cancer would rear its ugly head within my body.
So as I recite the Kaddish prayer during my dad's Yahrzeit, I miss him very much and probably spend at least a week being miserable and unhappy at the loss of a most wonderful man, father, son, uncle and cousin. However, his legacy genetically has helped those he left behind with a knowledge that allows us to overcome the high risk of disease that has plagued the family through several generations.
If not for Dr. Daly at FCCC and the support and information at FORCE, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered (www.facingourrisk.org) I may not even had gotten to age 51 and sitting here writing about genetics and breast cancer! Thank you Dadddy. Though you have missed meeting your grandchildren and other new family members, because of your sacrifice and love, we remember you at this yearly celebration of your life.
Love and special hugs,