Mom's breast cancer battle saves daughter's life


by TERRI GRUCA / KVUE News and photojournalist DATHAN HULL

Bio | Email | Follow: @TerriG_KVUE

Posted on October 21, 2013 at 6:33 PM

Updated Monday, Oct 21 at 9:46 PM

AUSTIN -- Women who have one immediate female relative with breast cancer are twice as likely to develop the disease themselves. Sometimes it's that family connection that can save a life.

For Kristi Simmons, her mother's cancer diagnosis prompted her to examine her own health.

"The reason I even found out about my cancer is that my mom was going through her third bout with cancer," Simmons said. "She found out she had the BRCA gene."

"Her doctor said you need to do that test. I tested positive for it."

Doctors then ordered a mammogram. A newlywed, and six weeks shy of her 30th birthday, Simmons discovered she had cancer, too.

"I had a double mastectomy," she recalled. "And since I have the BRCA gene, I elected to have surgery in both breasts and I did eight rounds of chemotherapy."

"And after that I was done. My hair grew back."

"It puts things in perspective,” said her husband Cole Simmons. “In your 20s and 30s, death is nothing to fear at this age. And you find out really quick that it's a possibility at any age."

Six years later, so much has changed.

"For me life is good," Simmons said. "I went through a lot to get here."

Now a mother of two, Simmons is cancer free, but without her own mom.

"If I didn't know that I had the gene my life would have been very different,” she said. “I wouldn't have done a mammogram."

"I wouldn't have done any of those things. Because I did that, I'm still married. I have kids. I'm still alive! I feel very, very fortunate. I know a lot of women don't get that opportunity.”

That's the power of a mother's love.

"I am blessed beyond belief," said Simmons.

Simmons is one of 15 survivors and co-survivors serving as honorary chairs for the 15th annual Austin Race for the Cure. Join us Sunday, November 10th. To register go here.

More places to test for BRCA gene

A few months ago the U.S. Supreme Court ruled human genes cannot be patented, which means the patent Myriad Genetics Inc. had on the BRCA test was thrown out. Just last week, the nation’s biggest medical lab testing firm, Quest Diagnostics, announced it will offer a test for the BRCA gene which will be available at 2,100 testing centers across the country (which serve about 50 percent of U.S. doctors offices).

The National Cancer Institute says women with mutations in the genes BRCA1 or BRCA2 are five times more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer. That means that 60 percent of women with a BRCA mutation will develop breast cancer in their lifetime, compared to 12 percent of women in the general population.

Less than one percent of women actually have a BRCA mutation, making costly genetic testing unnecessary for most.

You can find more information on the BRCA testing here.