Bearing BRCA Breasts and Other French Holiday Medical Adventures
Long before Angelina Jolie made “BRCA” a household term, my daughter harassed me for ions to be tested. I didn’t have a clue about it — no more than the average person, until one of my niece’s sent the results of her tests prior to her own double mastectomy that proved to be positive. (You know about Angelina Jolie’s decision to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy as a result of her BRCA testing, right? And did you know that yesterday Brad Pitt surprised her with a birthday dinner here in Paris?)
BRCA is an acronym for “BReastCAncer” genes. Healthy genes are great — in simple terms they defend the body against cancer, but mutated BRCA genes increase the risk of breast, ovarian cancer and other cancer types often at an earlier age than normal. About one in 400 women carry a BRCA mutation, but men are at risk, too, increasing the risk of breast and prostate cancer. Those who inherit the mutated gene have a 50% chance of passing it on to their children.
As it turns out, Ashkenazi Jews have a propensity for the mutated gene, so it’s not so surprising that so many in my own family have suffered as a result, beginning with my father’s mother who died at the age of about 35 from ovarian cancer (we think) leaving eight children in the care of the father, who wasn’t capable of managing such a brood on his own, and as a result, the kids all ended up in an orphanage in New Orleans.
Being tested for BRCA in the U.S. is expensive. Costs range from $475 to about $4,000 and can be covered by insurance (if certain criteria are met) but a recent report released by Bio News Texas on May 29th states that insurance companies are reluctant to pay for BRCA testing and genetic counseling!
With French health care coverage, it’s free. This is yet again, another great reason to be in the French social security system and take advantage of the amazing health care.
The contact for such testing is the Institut Curie, “Département de Biologie des Tumeurs — Service Génétique” headed by Madame Dominique Stoppa-Lyonnet. After a brief conversation, they sent a questionnaire to complete and return that included submission of a family tree making note of any and all members who have suffered from some sort of cancer. This in itself was a surprising revelation — after canvassing my sisters who could help piece together just who of our aunts, uncles and cousins had been treated for cancer-related illnesses. There were simply too many!
The Institut Curie set an appointment for me, fortunately falling at a time when Erica could attend with me, help translate if necessary and provide moral support. Once again, as has always been the case with my experience over the last almost 20 years with the French medical system and general care, it was more than positive. The staff were particularly nice, friendly and helpful at the facility at 26 rue d’Ulm in the 5th near the Panthéon. Within 1.5 hours, we met with genetic consultants who reviewed the case, explained the mutant gene and its affects, then two tests were taken — saliva and blood. It was that easy.
The results will come at the end of August and I already have an appointment. Will I go the route of Angelina Jolie should the tests prove positive? Doubt it!…But, just knowing may make the difference between life and death.
It’s no wonder people in France live longer. According to the World Health Organization, Japan ranks first with a life expectancy of 83 years of age, France ranks 4th with 82 years of age and the U.S. 33rd with 79 years of age.
This past week, one of our rental guests informed us that “On Sunday evening, SAMU (Service d’Aide Médicale Urgente or Urgent Medical Aid Service, dial 15), came to the apartment to check out my chest pain and decided that I needed to be evaluated at the hospital. The ambulance took me to the American Hospital. On Monday I had an angioplasty in which they inserted a stent into one of my arteries that was completely blocked. After three nights in the hospital, I came back to the apartment this afternoon. I am very lucky that my heart damage was not too severe! The hospital staff was wonderful — although I do NOT recommend this as a good holiday adventure!“
A la prochaine…
Director of The Adrian Leeds Group, LLC
(photo by Theo Robinson)
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