Diminutive in size, with the enthusiasm of a cheerleader, Amy Yoffe is a woman on a mission. Her life-saving crusade is to spread the word about the BRCA gene mutation that can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Yoffe, a licensed clinical social worker, tested positive for BRCA-1 in 2009. She chose to electively remove her ovaries, fallopian tubes and breasts to reduce her own risk of ovarian and breast cancer. “I didn’t doubt the decision going in, and even though it was very difficult to go through the double mastectomy with reconstruction, it was definitely worthwhile,” Yoffe said. “I feel fortunate to have had the ability to find out that I was BRCA positive. I think the testing saved my life
Since the surgery, Yoffe has made it her singular goal to spread the word about the condition, which would enable women to make informed decisions about their own individual health care.
“Everybody’s journey is unique, and while I chose to have preventative surgery to maintain good health, some women choose constant surveillance through MRI’s and mammograms,”she said. “It is a very personal and individual decision.
In Yoffe's family, cancer spread along family lines on her paternal side. “It's important to note that the mutation doesn’t occur on the sex chromosomes, so your history on your father’s side is equally as important as that on your mom’s,” she said.
The only way to find out if you are BRCA positive would be to get tested. “There is a blood test, a mouth swab and even a mouth gargle that can be used,” Yoffe said.
According to Yoffe, the process is fairly straightforward and the test needs to be ordered by a doctor. Prior to testing, she recommends seeing a genetic counselor to have them take a detailed family history, so they can provide the appropriate information.
And the statistics are stunning. Yoffe found in her research that the frequency of the BRCA gene in the general population is about 1 in 500. However, among Ashkanasi Jews, the occurrence becomes 1 in 40. And within that group of Ashkanasi Jews who’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, it’s 1 in 4. “So if you think about Agoura Hills there actually is a very large Jewish community here, and I know several women myself in this community who are BRCA positive,” she said.
These alarming numbers inspired Yoffe to charter a Ventura County Chapter of FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empower). FORCE is the only national organization aimed at improving the lives of women affected by breast and ovarian cancer. While there is a Los Angeles Chapter that meets 4 times a year, Yoffe decided to start a group here to serve the women in local communities
At a Force meeting women come together to share their stories about who they are, what their family history is, and what they have been through. “It brings together a group of women from all walks of life. Some have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and some have not yet been tested. Said Yoffe.
The next meeting is on February 27th and Yoffe anticipates about 15 women will attend; however, she is hoping that once the word gets, out a lot more will come.
“I feel like it’s almost every single day I’m meeting somebody new who has a reason to get tested. That’s what I want. I want to educate people, I want to support people,” she said.
For more information on FORCE Meetings, contact Yoffe at: 818-735-0545.