This article appeared in Pulse Magazine, a glossy mag published by the Jewish News in the UK. I was delighted to be included. Click the image to the right for a PDF of the article, but I’ve included the text as well here. To read it (and the rest of the magazine) online, please go to http://jewishnews.co.uk/ and click on the Pulse Magazine image. It’s on Page 54.
Angelina Jolie was praised for her bravery after revealing she had a double mastectomy because she had the mutated BRCA gene. Suzanne Baum (of the Jewish News) speaks to others who have also had to make the same life-changing decision
“When you have a chance to make a difference, even save one life, how can you remain silent?” asks American performing artist Eva Moon.
The question is all the more poignant when you realize Moon tested positive for a BRCA1 gene mutation — and, just like Hollywood actress Angelina Jolie, who revealed last month that she also had the gene, the Jewish performer from Seattle decided to undergo a preventative double mastectomy and reduce her risk of developing breast cancer.
Although everyone has the BRCA1 gene, it is only when there is a mutation that the risk of breast and ovarian cancer increases.
While this is rare, if you are a carrier (one out of 40 Ashkenazi Jewish woman has a BRCA gene mutation) the chances increase significantly.
“Women who carry a fault in one of the two ‘breast cancer’ genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2, have a lifetime risk of breast cancer of approximately 70 to 80 percent and a 20 to 30 percent risk of ovarian cancer,” explained Professor Tony Howell, director of the Genesis Breast Cancer Prevention Centre. This is the only charity in the UK entirely dedicated to the prevention of the deadly disease.
“Since ovarian cancer is very sinister and can arise without symptoms, women are advised to consider removal of the ovaries after completing their families at around the age of 40.”
This was the advice that mother-of-five Michelle Clayton, a fundraiser for Genesis, followed after discovering that she too carried the BRCA2 gene.
“When I found out my mother had breast cancer for the second time, I decided to be tested to see if I had the gene,” she said. “I had already made up my mind before I knew the results that if I tested positive I would have a preventative mastectomy.”
The 43-year-old, who went on to have the surgery in 2006, describes it as “the best decision I ever made.”
She added: “Although I was very nervous, having the operation and then my ovaries removed means I’ve cut my chances dramatically of getting the disease.
“I believe Angelina Jolie has helped raise awareness of the disease, as celerity culture definitely makes things more acceptable.”
In total agreement is Michael Baum, professor emeritus of surgery at University College London. Baum is a leading British surgical oncologist and specialises in breast caner treatment.
He said: “I think Angelina was very courageous in speaking out about her health,” adding that the actress will no doubt encourage more women to be tested for the BRCA gene mutation.
“If you are concerned, I would urge all Jewish women of Ashkenazi extraction who have a family history of the disease to consult their GPs, who might then send them for genetic counselling and genetic tests.”
And it was those very tests which helped women like Moon decide that preventative surgery was the best way forward. The 57-year-old has even turned her diagnosis into something positive, by penning the light-hearted musical The Mutant Diaries, following her surgery last year. “I didn’t have a strong history of breast cancer in my family, but my mother got uterine cancer and then died of peritoneal cancer last year,” she explained.
“The family history combined with our Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry raised suspicions enough to justify genetic counselling and testing.
“When I learned I carried the gene, I knew I wanted to act quickly. I was worried about the surgery, but a year on, while I still miss my breasts very much, I certainly don’t regret the choice I made.”
Although she hadn’t planned to write about her health, she was encouraged after a friend who worked in the music industry heard a song Moon had written about being a gene carrier.
Moon said: “I’m a performer who has always combined humour and sensuality and after a while I found I couldn’t stop writing about what I had been through.
“I ended up with enough material for an hour-long show, which I began performing in December. I strove to made every word the absolute truth, so it contains sadness, fear and pain, but also joy, laughter and optimism. The response has been so positive.”
Last month, Moon brought the show to London and helped raise money for Macmillan Cancer Support.
“The message of my show is that no matter how difficult something seems when you’re in the middle of dealing with it, there is hope and love and joy on the other side. And that you can really surprise yourself with strength and resilience you didn’t know you had.”
She adds: “Laughter is not only good, it’s healing. I am a mutant. And like mutants in comic books, my mutant superpower wasn’t revealed until I had dire need of it.
“But I got to change the future and I get to go out and sing and maybe help others change their futures. How cool is that?”
• To read more about Eva Moon’s The Mutant Diaries: Unzipping My Genes, visit www.mutantdiaries.com. Macmillan Cancer Support runs a dedicated helpline for patients, family and friends. For more information or to donate, call 0808 808 00 00 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 8pm) or visit www.macmillan.org.uk