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Knowledge is Power A chance encounter with a cancer genetic educator gave Raelene Norman the support she needed to make a potentially lifesaving decision


Raelene, a teacher from New Boston, Texas, is no stranger to the devastating effect cancer can have on a family. She watched her mother, Lee, battle breast cancer in the 1970s. In 1974, she lost her sister, Joyce, to breast cancer after years of surgery and heartache. Joyce was just 33-years-old at the time.

“I have several other aunts and cousins who have had cancer,” Raelene says. “Only one is still fighting it.” Raelene’s younger sister, Sue, was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 28. For several years her cancer appeared to be in remission, but it came back in 2003. “At the time, doctors encouraged us to look into genetic testing since there was such a strong family history of cancer among us,” Raelene says. “We didn’t take it seriously. Then in 2005, Sue was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and I started thinking more about getting checked out. I honestly wasn’t sure what to do. Thankfully, God intervened.”

A Teacher and a Student

Not long after Sue’s cancer resurfaced, Raelene mentioned her family’s history with cancer to the mother of a boy she was tutoring who happened to be a nurse. “I didn’t know what she did, but thought that as she was in medicine she would understand what I was going through,” Raelene says. “Talk about a godsend. When I found out who she was, I was so surprised.”

The mother was Tammy McKamie, RN, MSN, OCN, GCN, a clinical oncology patient navigator and cancer genetic educator with CHRISTUS St. Michael Health System. After hearing Raelene’s story, Tammy encouraged her to come in for genetic testing.

“At Tammy’s suggestion, Sue and I both had our blood tested,” Raelene says. “Tammy came all the way down to New Boston to explain the genetic testing process and obtain our blood samples.”
Raelene, her mother, and her sister, Sue, all tested positive for the BRCA-1 genetic mutation. According to the test, her odds of developing breast cancer were 88 percent compared to the national average rate of 12 percent, and her odds for developing ovarian cancer were 44 percent.

The Right Choice for Her

“Everyone I spoke with about my results was very supportive, especially Tammy,” Raelene says. “It was my decision to proceed with surgery.” Considering the risk I was taking with m y life if I didn’t act and all that my sisters, mother and other family members had g one through helped me make the decision to reduce my risk however I could.” Raelene had her breasts removed in a preventive double mastectomy in June of 2005 and had reconstructive surgery six months later. In 2006, she had a complete hysterectomy.

“It was not an easy decision, but it was the right one for me, ” Raelene says. “I am a firm believer that genetic counseling and my decision to take action may be the reasons I am alive and cancer-free today. Meeting Tammy probably saved my life.”