The following story is from BC Cancer Foundation‘s website.
Shiraz Italia was 12 when her mom died of ovarian cancer. If Shiraz hadn’t pursued genetic testing to determine her own risk, her daughter might have lost her at an even younger age.
Shiraz Italia’s family is donating to BC Cancer’s renowned Ovarian Cancer Research (OVCARE) Program, which has joined forces with the Hereditary Cancer Program (HCP), to expedite the process of identifying more women at high risk so they can have life-saving preventative surgery.
Shiraz’s mother (aged 48) and grandmother (aged 39) both died of cancer. Knowing she had a family history, two years ago, in her late 30s, she chose to pursue genetic testing to find out if she had the BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation, which would put her at an increased risk of ovarian and/or breast cancer.
She ended up on a 12- to 18-month wait list. “Something, my gut instinct, told me not to wait,” says Shiraz. So she got tested privately and the results came back positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Her doctor recommended removal of her fallopian tubes and ovaries as a preventative measure. In July 2020 she went in for surgery, “and that was supposed to be the end of it.”
Ten days later she received a phone call. “They had found a one mm-size tumour on one of my ovaries.”
A hysterectomy and six cycles of chemotherapy later, and she still feels rocked by her diagnosis. Shiraz is a teacher and says even something as simple as one of her students innocently commenting on her “new haircut” (now short, thanks to chemotherapy) can be triggering.
She finds strength in being there for her daughter, eight, and son, five, especially since, “I didn’t get the opportunity to grow up with my mom. I can’t let what happened to my mom be in vain.” Which is why Shiraz’s family created a charity in her name, the Maneck Homi Italia Foundation, and are donating to keep other women from going through what Shiraz did — or worse.
An estimated 25,000 women in B.C. have an inherited BRCA genetic mutation that puts them at increased risk of developing ovarian cancer. And none of them can afford to sit on a wait list, says Shiraz, who hates to think what could have happened if she had. “It could have been the difference between one mm and Stage 3 cancer. Ovarian cancer is named the silent killer for a reason.” It’s often not caught until advanced stages, which unfortunately for many is too late.
“My mom and my grandmother didn’t have the benefit of science, but we do.”
Shiraz hopes her donation will bolster the tremendous progress BC Cancer has already made in developing and improving access to tools to support genetic testing.
“This isn’t a new chapter in life for me… this is a new book,” says Shiraz. And she intends to make every page count by fuelling innovations in ovarian cancer research and care so that one day no more children will lose a mother to this disease.