July 6, 2016 | by City of Hope
Hereditary colon cancer can take a physical and psychological toll long before individuals show signs of cancer. A person with one of the genetic mutations that predispose them to colon cancer has a chance of passing that mutation on to his or her children, yet families that have this medical history rarely know others like them outside their own family circle.
“I don’t know anybody other than the people in my family that have this,” said Cathy Prado, who saw many family members on her mother’s side pass away from colon cancer before she got tested at age 20. “We feel a little bit alone here.”
That’s why, on July 23, the Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics at City of Hope and the Hereditary Colon Cancer Foundation will hold a free conference called Hereditary Colon Cancer Family Day. The all-day event will bring together families affected by hereditary colon cancer syndromes and provide access to medical experts for a day of education, socialization and support.
“We are very excited to add a patient conference to complement our thriving gastrointestinal clinical program. We are especially grateful for the venue resources provided through City of Hope, as well as the funding support from the Oxnard Foundation,” said Thomas Slavin, M.D., clinical geneticist at City of Hope.
Shawnie Bray, who founded the Hereditary Colon Cancer Foundation with her husband said, “The day will include informative and timely presentations from doctors and time for networking where people can talk with each other about their experiences. And we’ll have exhibit tables with doctors, genetics experts and information about cancer services.”
For Prado, who is still recovering from a total gastrectomy (surgical removal of the stomach) that she had after her doctors found precancerous polyps in her stomach, the event is an opportunity to teach her daughter about the condition that affects around 75 percent of their living family. “My daughter just turned 19, and she started routine colonoscopies at 15,” Prado said. “I hope this knowledge can help her and her children. I want her to see other people out there living with this — to see that there is a life with this.”
One important message from the event is that recent advances in genetic testing can identify people who would benefit greatly from increased screening — if they get tested. Participants will have opportunities to speak directly with genetic counselors, such as Ilana Solomon, Sc.M, L.C.G.C., from City of Hope's Division of Clinical Cancer Genetics team, to learn more about it.
For Prado, genetic testing helped her stay a step ahead of cancer and she recommends anyone who suspects hereditary colon cancer runs in their family get tested. “Genetic testing saved my life because I wouldn’t have known otherwise,” Prado said. “I probably would’ve had only a year to live after the cells in my polyps became precancerous.”
There will also be an emphasis on emotional wellness, mental health and family communication. “The mental health aspect is huge as these families may live in fear, not only of colon cancer but also other cancers for which they’re predisposed,” Bray said. “Another dynamic is the guilt that many parents suffer for possibly passing this on to their children.”
“We’re including a presentation about navigating these issues and having conversations with family about the condition,” said Solomon. There will also be meditation sessions to help participants learn stress-reduction techniques.
Hereditary Colon Cancer Family Day is a free event that is open to anyone who wants to join. “It’s not just a patient event, it’s a family event,” Bray said. “Caregivers, spouses and friends are all welcome to come — we want people to bring those who care for them.” The event will run from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. and will include a free, catered lunch.
“It will bring knowledge, support, friendship and other positive things into our lives,” Prado said. “I’m really looking forward to all of it.”
Hereditary Colon Cancer Family Day takes place on July 23 from 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. in City of Hope’s Cooper Auditorium. To learn more or to register to attend, visit the event webpage.
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