In 2012, Mindy and her husband, Jon Gray, established the Basser Center for BRCA at Penn Medicine’s Abramson Cancer Center in honor of Faith. Shari and her husband, Len Potter, created the Basser Global Prize initiative at the Center to fund BRCA research. They have since dedicated their lives to the research and awareness of BRCA- related cancers.
What exactly is BRCA?
Every person is born with BRCA genes that regulate DNA repair and thus prevent tumors from occurring. Many people think BRCA genes are bad, but they are actually the good players in this. It is having a BRCA gene mutation that can be bad since it leads to increased risk of breast and ovarian cancers. Women with a mutation have up to an 80% lifetime risk of breast cancer (men can get breast cancer too but less frequently) and up to a 45% lifetime risk of ovarian cancer. There is also increased risk for both men and women with BRCA mutations for melanoma and pancreatic cancer. Men with BRCA mutation have up to a 25% lifetime risk of prostate cancer. So these are scary statistics.
How did your sister Faith’s cancer diagnosis and discovery of the BRCA mutation change your lives?
When Faith’s BRCA mutation status was uncovered, we dove in deep to better understand what it meant not just for her, but also for generations to come. One of the most insidious parts of this genetic mutation is that it can be passed down generation after generation after generation. So when BRCA entered our lives, we soon realized it was a formidable foe.
What were you most surprised to learn about the BRCA mutations through your sister’s diagnosis?
Our father is 98 and a first generation immigrant to the United States. When his parents emigrated from Russia, they had their family history stored in their heads, but nowhere else. Our dad’s mom died in her 20’s and his sister died when she was only 8, so they passed away before the onset of breast or ovarian cancers. The discovery of BRCA happened as recently as the 1990’s so this wasn’t even on anyone’s radar. Our story highlights how this mutation can seem silent until it strikes. There are families out there who have a mutation lurking and it is our mission to open their eyes to potential risks. One in 40 people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent are carriers but other demographic groups are affected too.