Understanding Your Family History Helps You Assess Your Cancer Risk
- Reality TV star Paris Hilton, 42, shares that breast cancer awareness month brings forth raw emotions because her late-grandmother Kathleen Richards passed away from the disease. It’s also encouraged Hilton to advocate breast cancer screenings.
- Different types of genetic testing can help people with a family history of cancer better ascertain their cancer risks. The tests usually involve a simple blood or saliva test. Genetic sequencing of your tumor (for patients already diagnosed) helps doctors with treatment decisions.
- Certain triggers like stress, traumatic events, or changes in your physical health can affect your mental health. A diagnosis for cancer patients and their families undoubtedly impacts their mental health. Genetic testing can also help mental health treatment for people struggling with anxiety and depression.
- Grief is defined as the devastation that occurs when we lose someone. The five stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These labels help us frame and identify what we may be feeling.
Reality TV star and socialite Paris Hilton, 42, says not a day goes by without her thinking of her beloved grandmother, Kathleen Richards, who died after battling breast cancer in 2002. Amid grief, Hilton says she’s since turned the emotional loss into purpose by encouraging women to screen for breast cancer. With breast cancer running in her own family, Hilton heeds her own advice by getting checked in the spirit of breast cancer awareness month.
View this post on InstagramRead More“My grandmother passed away from breast cancer, and I miss her every single day 🥺😢 I can’t stress how important it is for my mental health to make sure I’m being proactive and not reactive when it comes to my physical health,” Hilton wrote in an Instagram post.
RELATED: Throughout October, SurvivorNet will collaborate with breast cancer survivor Laura Morton, whose film “Anxious Nation” deeply explores the country’s mental health crisis.
Hilton says she was extremely close to her grandmother and played an influential role in who she is today.
“She was so much fun to be around; she was hysterically funny and always made me smile and laugh. Being in her presence was magical,” Hilton said.
Although it has been 21 years since she lost her grandmother, the grief is still felt decades later. The stages of grief are how we process losing a loved one; no set timetable exists for the stages of grief to run their course.
“Losing her was and still is the most painful and heartbreaking experience of my life. 😔 There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about her. She even comes to me in my dreams and as a hummingbird often. 🕊 I wish she was here with me to be there for all my big life moments and celebrate all my accomplishments,” Hilton said in her social media post.
WATCH: SN & You Presents Mental Health: Coping With Emotions
Helping Families Deal with Grief and Cancer
Family History & Breast Cancer Risk
Although breast cancer can happen to anyone, certain factors can increase a person’s risk of getting the disease. The known risk factors for breast cancer include:
- Older age
- Having a gene mutation such as the BRCA1 or BRCA2
- Added exposure to estrogen
- Having children after the age of 30
- Exposure to radiation early in life
- Family history of the disease
Different types of genetic testing can help people with a family history of cancer better ascertain their cancer risks. Your doctor will discuss your family history of cancer with you in the context of your type of tumor and your age at diagnosis. Hereditary genetic testing is usually done with a blood or saliva test.
The second test involves the genetic sequencing of your tumor if you’ve been diagnosed with cancer by this point. These genetic changes can be inherited, but most arise during a person’s lifetime. This process usually involves examining a biopsy or surgical specimen of your tumor. This testing can lead to decisions on drugs that might work against your cancer.
WATCH: Understanding genetic testing for breast cancer.
“We encourage only those who have a family history to really get [genetic testing],” Dr. Ginsburg tells Survivornet.
“I would say that if you have anyone in your family who was diagnosed with a very rare cancer. Or if you have a strong family history of one or two kinds of cancer, particularly breast and ovarian, but also colon, rectal, uterine, and ovarian cancer, that goes together in another cancer syndrome called the Lynch Syndrome,” Dr. Ginsburg adds.
How to Cope After Losing a Loved One to Cancer
The lingering impact of Hilton’s grandmother’s passing illustrates how deeply rooted the many stages of grief can impact people emotionally. Many people can relate to what Hilton has experienced during breast cancer awareness month, who also lost a loved one to the disease.
SurvivorNet wants you to know everyone grieves differently.
Grief is defined as the devastation that occurs when we lose someone. Grieving comes in five stages, commonly called the “five stages of grief.”
The stages of grief are denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These labels help us frame and identify what we may be feeling. These stages can occur in any order.
As you find yourself experiencing some of these stages, remember that the emotions you are feeling are normal and meaningful but won’t be permanent. If you approach them with compassion, kindness, and eventual acceptance, you will come away from this period with a renewed sense of resilience and purpose.
WATCH: Managing the stages of grief.
“Grief comes in waves,” says Dr. Scott Irwin, a psychiatrist and Director of Supportive Care Services at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.
“They’re grieving the change in their life; the future they had imagined is now different.”
Some days can be more challenging than others, but Dr. Irwin says talk therapy can be helpful. It’s important to reach out to your doctor, a therapist, or support groups in your community for the help you need.