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Local cancer patient draws awareness for men to get tested for genetic mutation

BRCA genes aren’t only linked to breast cancer
Published: Mar. 17, 2021 at 10:31 PM CDT
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) - An area man who comes to McLennan County for cancer treatments is spreading awareness about BRCA genes after reuniting with his estranged daughter who has also tested positive for the genetic mutation.

After battling prostate cancer for almost 13 years, about a year-and-a-half ago Don Cooper, 74, of Bryan, learned he had a genetic predisposition to cancer called BRCA2.

“They tested me for 85 different different genes, I had one of the 85, and the one that I had, unfortunately, is one of the worst ones you can have,” said Cooper.

BRCA is known as “the breast cancer gene”, but Cooper found out the hard way it was linked to prostate cancer, too.

“Most people are not familiar with that, and they certainly aren’t familiar with it as it relates in a male,” said Cooper.

During his decade of treatment, Cooper has had his prostate removed and undergone radiation: twice, he thought he’d beaten the disease, but it kept coming back, and now he thinks he knows why.

“Whatever BRCA2 is going to do, it’d already done, and it made a lot of sense because we couldn’t figure out why all the treatments we went through--and there were a number of them--never worked,” said Cooper.

For the past three years, Cooper has been traveling to Texas Oncology in Waco once a month to see medical oncologist Dr. Carl Chakmakjian.

“I’m a cancer doctor, but I hate cancer,” said Chakmakjian. “We want to try to eliminate cancer, and better yet, we want to try to prevent cancer.”

In their lifetime, Chakmakjian says, men who have a BRCA mutation have a 20 percent increased risk of prostate cancer.

“I think a lot of men aren’t as aggressive about seeking healthcare as women are, they tend to kind of ignore things and not see doctors, and I think it’s important for men to be aware, and for families to be aware, that these cancers can be genetically associated diseases, including prostate cancer,” said Chakmakjian.

“If we can detect cancers at an earlier stage, we can save lives,” he said. “It’s important for us and our patients to be well informed to make the best decisions possible.”

Chakmakjian says about 1,000,000 people in the U.S. have a BRCA mutation, but only ten percent of them know it.

“It’s important to identify if someone has that mutation, because if they have a BRCA1 or BRCA2 genetic mutation, all of their genetic offspring have a 50/50 chance of having inherited that mutation,” said Chakmakjian.

Don has three children: a daughter and a son with his wife, and an estranged daughter from a previous marriage.

His younger daughter does not have the mutation and his son didn’t want to get tested.

However, after reaching out to his estranged daughter, she got tested, and she has it.

“It was kind of hard to say, ‘Hi, I’m you’re dad, you haven’t seen me in 40 years and you could potentially have this gene,’” said Cooper. “They have not found any sign of cancer in her yet, but fortunately her doctors say ‘you’re lucky you know this because it probably saved your life.’”

Since learning she has a BRCA mutation, which is a tumor suppressant, Cooper says she’s taken preventative measures including having a hysterectomy, and she’s planning to undergo a double mastectomy.

While it’s not under the best circumstances, Cooper says he’s thankful to have reconnected with her.

“We’ve actually formed a pretty good relationship,” said Cooper. “I’m so proud of her, she’s handled this much better than me.”

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