BOSTON (CBS) – Alex Fitzpatrick went from Hollywood screenwriter to Massachusetts restaurant owner so she and her husband could spend more time with her children. When she recently found out her risk of getting breast cancer was as high as 80%, all she could think of was her three boys. “I do want to make sure that I’m the one telling them what to wear on their wedding day and watch them go to college,” she said.
Alex has one of the BRCA gene mutations. She got tested when an aunt was recently diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer. “I was blindsided to be honest,” she remembers feeling when she received her test results.
The first thing Alex did was research Angelina Jolie’s story. The actress has the same inherited gene defect and chose surgery to remove her healthy breasts and ovaries to reduce her risk. “I remember thinking, gosh what a drastic decision that was,” Alex recalled.
But when faced with the same choice, Alex said the decision wasn’t hard at all. “I started thinking of it as a gift and I can decide what course to take and how I can keep myself healthy and how I can keep myself alive,” she said.
Alex is sharing her story because she wants people to learn about their family’s cancer history and to dispel the myth that men don’t have to worry about these genes.
“Men do have to worry about it,” explained Kristen Shannon, director of genetic counseling at Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer center.
According to Shannon, the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 genes have also been linked to pancreatic and prostate cancers. There are also concerns about passing on that defect to children. “If a man carries a BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 gene, each of his children have a 50-50 chance of carrying it,” she explained.
Alex says she feels empowered, but also a little guilty. “I get to do something and make sure I don’t get it and you feel for those who don’t have that opportunity,” she said.
Alex had her first surgery a few weeks ago and was thrilled to learn that tests found no sign of cancer. She’s optimistic she’ll get the same result when she has a double mastectomy next year.
She also wants to urge people to get tested, even if it’s just through those in home genetic testing kits. But Kristen Shannon says those tests don’t’ always give you a complete and accurate picture, so she recommends a conversation with your doctor before doing any tests.