One Nebraska man’s breast cancer diagnosis may have saved his sister’s life

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – One Nebraska family is sharing the importance of genetic testing to prevent cancer.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and men also need to check themselves for breast cancer.

Cancer survivor Robert Zarek found a lump in his breast in 2017.

At first, he thought nothing of it, then it became painful to the touch.

“It was intense pain. It about dropped me to my knees,” Zarek said.

So then he had it removed.

“Lo and behold, it was breast cancer,” said Zarek.

Breast cancer is less common in males, but it does happen.

Doctors at Nebraska Hematology Oncology suggested that he and his family undergo genetic testing.

“I came back positive for this brip1 gene,” Zarek said. “They didn’t know too much about it back then except that it increased the chances in females of breast and ovarian cancer. They asked if I had any sisters or brothers with daughters, that they should get tested.”

His brother was negative, but both sisters were positive for the gene.  A positive test doesn’t mean you will have cancer, just that you’re at a higher risk.

“My oldest sister, Cathy, went and got tested, and she came back positive,” Zarek said. “She got a hysterectomy, and unfortunately, there were beginning, early stages of cancer in her fallopian tube.”

Doctors say catching cancer early is the best thing you can do.

Zarek said this genetic testing “meant everything” to him and his family.

“I mean, it’s unexplainable,” he said.  “I mean, to me, it’s actually God working in mysterious ways.”

Zarek said genetic testing is easy. It’s just one blood test.

In most cases, depending on family history, type of cancer and age, insurance covers genetic testing.

And if not, it typically costs around $250 out of pocket when you see a genetic counselor.

“The genetic testing is really, it’s revolutionized medicine in so many ways,” said Dr. Eric Avery of Nebraska Hematology Oncology.

NHO understands that a cancer center is not very inviting, and may be intimidating for some. So it expanded services into a support center across the street from the treatment center.

The support center will provide support groups, customized care and genetic testing to the community.

“As a genetic counselor, it’s my job to counsel patients through the results that they received, whether they are positive or negative, to make sure that they fully understand what their results mean for themselves as well as their family members,” Charie King said.

The support center will have a grand opening Nov. 3.  You are invited to come and learn more.

Avery said most cancers “happen because of exposures throughout our lifetime.”

But in the 10% to 15% of cancers caused by a gene, genetic testing can be lifesaving.

“The good thing about me getting cancer, I guess, and doing the genetic testing, is that it caught my sister’s cancer in the early stages when it’s easier to deal with,” Zarek said.

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