Every family has a health story and in Jacqueline Sheppard’s family cancer is a running theme. For the 38-year-old Maryland mother it’s hard for her to say when exactly her own cancer story begins because of this. “I didn’t just wake up one day and feel a lump,” Sheppard tells BlackDoctor.org. “For my family, breast and ovarian cancer have always been there – A boogeyman in the night just ready to jump out and get you.”
Like a boogeyman, Sheppard didn’t think cancer would ever be a reality for her, even though it was for other women in her family. “After you lose your grandmother and two paternal aunts to both breast and ovarian cancer, you start to wonder: “Who is next?” But I was young and confused about my risk. I was under 50, am not of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, and have no MATERNAL history of breast cancer. So I thought I was off the hook. I was pretty sure that was not how DNA worked but I was going to roll with it…”
Until she couldn’t anymore. Here, she describes the moment at age 35 that led to what she calls her “awakening”:
“Things change after you become a parent. Something about being sleep deprived and being wholly responsible for another human being makes you take a good look at your life. I decided to look into this whole cancer thing.
I sat down with my physician and explained my concerns. Talk about going down a rabbit hole. She sent me to see a genetic counselor who explained my risks, talked about screening options, and asked if I wanted to pursue genetic testing. The genetic counselor knew that my risk of breast or ovarian cancer could be passed down from either parent’s side of the family.
I was left with a tough decision. Did I want to undergo the blood test to see if I carried a gene mutation that left me susceptible to developing breast and ovarian cancer? You would think this would be easy. I already had a cancer scare, I had a very strong family history, I was in the office, yet I walked away.
I called my best friend, who listened and then told me I was being an idiot. Whether or not I got the test wasn’t going to change the results…I was just going to have tools to make an informed decision. Dang your friends when they actually use logic and common sense. I returned a week later, had the blood test and found out I was BRCA1 positive.”