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Calgary woman uses genetic testing for breast and ovarian cancer

WATCH ABOVE: Thousands of people turned the area around Southcentre Mall into a sea of pink Sunday morning. The annual CIBC Run For The Cure raises money for breast cancer research. While many families are running to support loved ones with breast cancer, others are there because they've had genetic testing which puts them in a high risk group. Carolyn Kury de Castillo reports.

There was pink as far as the eye could see around Southcentre Mall Sunday.

As many as 6,000 people ran and walked in the annual CIBC Run for the Cure, an event that raises funds for the Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation.

It is the largest single day volunteer led event in Canada in support of the breast cancer cause.

Diana Lunn is a regular supporter of the event. The 25-year-old Calgary nurse doesn’t have breast cancer but a few years ago, genetic testing revealed that she carries the BRCA 1 gene mutation which puts her at a high risk for breast or ovarian cancer.

“It’s definitely something I think of all the time. I’m always kind of considering it with everything that I do. How can I stay my healthiest?” Lunn said.

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Actress Angelia Jolie made headlines in 2015 by announcing that she too, is a carrier of the BRCA 1 gene mutation and chose to have a preventative double mastectomy. Jolie’s mother died from ovarian cancer.

In Lunn’s case, her aunt had breast cancer and her father also tested positive for the gene.

“I guess I was prepared for it,” Lunn said of her test result. “I felt like maybe it was a strong possibility that I did have it. And I knew there was lots that could be done if you found out you had the BRCA gene. It’s actually more important to have the information so you can go forward with that.”

There are two types of BRCA – or breast cancer susceptibility gene. They’re called BRCA1 and BRCA2. The pair are tumour-suppressing genes, according to the National Cancer Institute. They’re meant to stabilize the cell’s DNA and prevent uncontrollable cell growth. But if they mutate, the BRCA genes can lead to breast cancer or ovarian cancer.

Diana’s mother has been a volunteer with the CIBC Run for the Cure for four years and is a strong supporter of the genetic testing for those who require it.

“I have devoted a lot of my time because I really want a cure. I don’t want my daughter to have to go through what her aunt went through and other family members and friends and that’s what’s really important to me,” Strickland said.

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READ MORE: Angelina Jolie inspires local breast cancer survivors

While breast cancer is the most common cancer in women, only an estimated five to ten per cent of cases are hereditary.

Michelle Hogaboam of Calgary was only 33-years-old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“Breast cancer doesn’t run in my family and when the diagnosis came it was just shocking. It was just gut wrenching,” Hogaboam, who spoke as a breast cancer survivor at the run, said.

“I went through genetic testing. It came back as negative. So I don’t have any genetic link to breast cancer. So the best case scenario that I could be saying is that it was environmental. There’s no real rhyme or reason as to why I got cancer.”

Hogaboam is thankful for the treatment she was able to get in Calgary and all the help she received with both the physical and mental side effects.

“I am feeling great. I am actually three years outside of treatments. And there’s been a lot of life in between my cancer treatments. I got married, I transitioned back at work. I’m in a career that I love. So there’s been a lot of great moments since then to really make me appreciate the life that I have and to really appreciate everything that I’ve gone through,” Hogaboam,

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Women with the BRCA gene mutation have a 40 to 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime, compared to an average woman at 12 per cent.

In Diana Lunn’s case, she now goes for a mammogram twice a year and focuses on living a healthy lifestyle.

“I’m really thankful to have that information. Absolutely. I think it’s so important now, knowing that I am really aware of my potential to have breast cancer and I really feel for women who have had breast cancer and I hope that more girls can find that information out about themselves,” Lunn said.

Provincial health plans cover the cost of BRCA 1 and 2 mutation testing in patients who meet the criteria.

More than 100,000 people take part in the CIBC Run for the Cure every October. The event happens in more than 63 communities across the country.

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