By MORGAN MANNS
Approximately 13.7 million Americans with a history of cancer were alive on Jan. 1, 2012, according to the American Cancer Society. Some of these individuals were cancer-free, while others still had evidence of cancer and may have been undergoing treatment.
More than 50 of those survivors and their families from the area attended the Survivor and Caregiver Celebration Thursday evening at St. Wendelin Parish Life Center.
The event, hosted by ProMedica Fostoria Community Hospital Cancer and Infusion Center, in partnership with the American Cancer Society and Fostoria Relay for Life, celebrated the lives of local cancer survivors and recognized the commitment and invaluable love of their caregivers and families. Dinner was provided, all survivors received a “Finish the Fight” t-shirt, and various items were given away at random.
“When you hear the word ‘cancer,’ it’s overwhelming,” said guest speaker Kelly Morse, licensed genetic counselor with ProMedica Cancer Institute. “All of you are on a journey called survivorship.”
Morse works at Hickman Cancer Center at Flower Hospital in Sylvania. She works with the family members of cancer patients to help them determine if they are at risk for the disease.
She said 75 to 80 percent of diagnosed cancer is sporadic, which means it is not genetically inherited from a parent, while only five to 10 percent is hereditary. Morse focuses on that five to 10 percent.
“All of us have 46 chromosomes, which I describe as books,” she said. “Each (book) has genetic information that tells our body how to grow and how to develop. … If you pull one of those books out, and look at the individual pages, it tells us our genes.”
Genes determine an individuals traits, from hair color, to the shape of an ear, to height, to more serious characteristics, such as diseases. Each chromosome has 2,500 genes, which Morse said she describes as letters.
Each human being has DNA that is 99.9 percent the same as every other human being in the world, according to Morse. The remaining .1 percent variation creates the differences seen in people today.
If the letters in the DNA extracted from a blood test are not in a specific order, the variation is not normal; rather, it is a “harmful mistake” that the individual was born with.
These mistakes do not always indicate a risk of cancer. According to Morse, depending on the gene, it could indicate a risk of a number of other diseases, including but not limited to Cystic Fibrosis, Dwarfism, and learning disabilities.
“It’s important to get this testing because it can effect your family,” Morse said. “Your siblings, your cousins, your children.”
Genetic counseling will allow the counselor to thoroughly go over an individuals medical and familial history and how cancer has descended through the family tree. The blood test of the individual will determine whether or not that person is at risk for cancer.
If their letters are in the correct order, Morse said they are identified as a “true negative,” which means they did not inherit the genetic risk and cannot pass it on to their children.
“This is valuable information for a family to know,” she said. “Once we identify someone as at risk or a ‘true negative,’ we can appropriately adjust their management.
“We want to be proactive for the family, helping them before we have to become reactive to a diagnosis.”
For more information on genetic counseling, visit www.promedica.org.