Pierce Brosnan was glowing at Sunday night’s Golden Globes ceremony as his sons, Dylan and Paris, were named 2020’s Golden Globe Ambassadors. Supporters were thrilled to see Brosnan doing so well after having been through so much, including the death of his daughter and first wife from cancer.
It’s the first time in Globe history that brothers have filled the role of ambassador. The young men (Dylan is 22, Paris, 18) posed with their parents, Brosnan and his wife, Keely Shaye Smith, to mark the joyful occasion.
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To acknowledge the honor, Dylan, who will be graduating from the USC School of Cinematic Arts this spring, said, “The biggest lesson our dad taught us is to ‘be kind,’ which was an essential factor in Paris and my decision to study filmmaking and our desire to tell important stories.” Paris, 18, recently graduated from high school.
The Brosnan Family’s Cancer Journey
The actor’s first wife, Cassandra died in 1991 at age 43 after becoming ill in 1987, while filming a movie in India. Brosnan was left to raise their then 8-year-old son, Sean, who grew up to become an actor himself.
Cassandra, an Aussie-born actress and sometime Bond girl (“For Your Eyes Only”) had a daughter, Charlotte, and son, Christopher, from her previous marriage to Dermot Harris, who died in 1986. When they married, Brosnan adopted the children, who took his last name.
A year later, Cassie was diagnosed with an aggressive form of ovarian cancer. Cassandra’s mother had also died of ovarian cancer and, in a cruel twist of fate, Charlotte was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died of the disease in 2013.
“I was in a helpless state of confusion and anger,” Brosnan, 66, told “People” of his response to losing his wife and, later, his daughter. “I went through it all, very publicly. Such things draw a mark across your heart and it’s always a part of your life. To watch someone you love have their life eaten away – bit by bit, by this insidious and horrid disease – becomes an indelible part of your psyche.”
The James Bond actor also told “People,” “From day one, we really had a fight on our hands. This wasn’t a shadow or a small tumor — this had invaded Cassie’s being.” Brosnan credits Cassie with courage and grace during her battle with the disease, having said she, “took her destiny in her own hands.”
Ovarian Cancer: Genetic Testing
Dr. Beth Karlan, gynecologic oncologist at UCLA Medical Center, did not treat Cassandra or Charlotte, but advises genetic testing can have life-saving benefits, especially because ovarian cancer is curable in over 90% of cases when diagnosed early on.
Dr. Beth Karlen on what to consider when genetic testing.
“It’s important when you’re deciding whether or not genetic testing would benefit you to try to find out what types of things run in your family,” Dr. Karlan says. “Because it can really help to save lives.”
Experts urge women diagnosed with ovarian cancer, to seek genetic testing at the time of diagnosis, not recurrence. A recent study found that too few women are being tested for mutations of the BRCA gene, like BRCA1 or BRCA2 — both can place people at a heightened risk for breast cancer or ovarian cancer.
However, in the U.S., 90 percent of people who carry a BRCA gene mutation aren’t aware of it until someone in their family gets cancer.
These gene mutations are commonly passed down among family members. In fact, if one of your blood relatives is found to carry a BRCA gene mutation, there’s a 50-50 chance you could be carrying it, too.
Since BRCA mutations aren’t found on the X or Y sex chromosome, you’re just as likely to inherit the risks of cancers associated with BRCA from your father as you are from your mother.
Dr. Erin Salinas, a gynecologic oncologist at Compass Oncology in Portland, Ore., addresses genetic testing for ovarian cancer.
For those patients with ovarian cancer curious about genetic testing to determine their risk of mutations, doctors can either refer them to genetic counselors who can conduct thorough family histories to talk about the risks and benefits and/or some doctors may discuss this with the patients themselves.
For germline (inherited) mutation testing, a blood or saliva test is often used. For somatic (non-inherited) mutation testing, tissue from the tumor will be tested in addition to the blood. The tumor tissue can be obtained from cancer tissue obtained either during surgery or from a biopsy. This tissue has to be obtained from the hospital or pathology lab where your surgery or biopsy was performed.
Dr. Erin Salinas tells us that “with the newer indications for PARP inhibitors,” they’re often testing “all of their patients for germline mutations or inherited mutations specifically in BRCA.” Some doctors may also chose to test the tumors and/or patients for other mutations that may be similar to BRCA mutations.
These types of test are important as they can affect treatment choices and recommendations. For example, some patients may be candidates for PARP inhibitors as maintenance or treatment.
Some family members might be interested in genetic testing for BRCA and other mutations. Should someone test positive, they can discuss with their doctors things such as chemo prevention using birth control pills and surgery to decrease risks of getting cancer.
For families affected by ovarian cancer, the question of genetics often weighs heavily on survivors, who wonder if their children or grandchildren have a greater likelihood of having the disease. The link between the ovarian cancer deaths of Cassandra, along with her mother and daughter is likely in the women’s shared genes, and their story could be an important one to note for other women on ovarian cancer journeys.