“I chose my health, and it was the right choice.”
“I chose my health,” Jessica says today, “and it was the right choice.” She and her mother both tested positive for the mutation. Jessica’s mother proceeded right away with an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) and Jessica began the “high-risk” screening program that anyone carrying the BRCA mutation is entitled to. For her, it means an annual MRI and mammogram. Once she has had children, Jessica plans to have an oophorectomy and she’s considering a mastectomy as well.
“Some people think a positive genetic test result is a death sentence,” says Jessica. “I don’t see it that way. Knowledge is power. The more you know, the more control you have.”
The Genetic Non-Discrimination Act added, among other changes, “genetic characteristics” as a new ground under the Canadian Human Rights Act, making it one of the 13 reasons a person can file a federal discrimination complaint in Canada. The new law has brought Gabrielle, Jessica and thousands of other Canadians, great relief. Doctors are reporting a sea change in attitudes as patients who have long feared hereditary conditions or have been fighting mysterious symptoms, agree to genetic testing, without fear of reprisal.
“It’s been one of the most humbling experiences of my career,” says Ronald Cohn, pediatrician-in-chief for Sick Kids Hospital in Toronto. Many of his patients are afflicted with rare conditions causing muscular disorders or cognitive delay. “I underestimated the amount of relief this — ‘just’ providing a diagnosis — would provide patients and their parents.”
Since the Act has passed, Gabrielle has had the BRCA test done. Now she awaits results. At last, she’ll be able to erase the question mark in her circle. Whatever replaces it, she’ll take it from there.