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Family was inspiration for cancer foundation
Cancer survivors, led by Patricia Via, march into the sanctuary of Solid Foundation Church of Worship on Va. 57 East, for a Walk to Celebrate Life. Via’s family has been hit hard by cancer, but thanks to the work of the MLC Cancer Foundation, the family hopes to hit back. (Bulletin photos by Mike Wray)
Patricia Via’s family has been hit hard by cancer over the generations. Through the work of the new MLC Cancer Foundation, the Martinsville resident’s family hopes to hit back.
The new foundation held a “Walk to Celebrate Life” Saturday afternoon at Solid Foundation Church of Worship on Chatham Road, which also served as a kickoff to the foundation’s work.
According to a news release, MLC intends to provide financial support and education for people on preventative options and genetic testing benefits for families. It also will offer personal and moral support for patients and their families.
Both Patricia Via’s parents died of cancer, she said. Three years ago, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. One year later, her sister, Deedra, was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer.
It was then Patricia decided to have genetic testing done to determine whether her family possessed the so-called “cancer genes.”
“I decided, let me check and have this genetic testing done,” she said.
Via met with a genetic counselor, who also met with several family members and set up testing for those who wanted it.
The “cancer genes” are BRCA1 and BRCA2, which belong to a class of genes known as tumor suppressors, according to the website cancer.gov. A mutation of the genes has been linked to hereditary breast and ovarian cancer, the website said. A blood test is required for the mutations, though not all mutations are harmful.
About seven of the women in the family went to Carilion Roanoke Memorial Hospital to be tested, Via said.
Patricia’s daughter, Telesa Via, was found to be among the family members who carries the harmful gene mutation. Telesa, 41, a graduate of Magna Vista High School, is director of sales and marketing for Kimpton Hotels in Washington, D.C.
She said her aunt, Deedra, also learned she carried the breast cancer gene.
Since the harmful mutations also are connected with ovarian cancer, if a woman carries a harmful mutation of BRCA1 or BRCA2, doctors often suggest women either have their ovaries removed and/or have a double mastectomy, Telesa said.
“My aunt had her ovaries removed as a preventive measure, and was diagnosed stage 3 during surgery,” she said. “So my mother really saved her life.”
Though Telesa refers to the foundation as her mother’s dream come true, Patricia Via’s motivation was more simple.
“I wanted to save my family,” she said, and “educate them in advance for what might happen,” to get them prepared to take proper measures for prevention and early detection.
Patricia, who has had a double mastectomy, is in remission. “If you carry the gene, either you have the surgery, or you have early detection testing,” she said.
Telesa, as a carrier, has tests done every six months. At some point in the next few years, she said, she also will have to have her ovaries removed, and then will consider having a double mastectomy.
“I’ve lived (cancer) through my grandmother, my aunt and my mom,” she said. “It’s a shock at first, and you go through your depressed stage,” but she said she looks at it as a positive because she caught something that is a killer before it happened.
Work on the foundation’s logo, mission statement, website and Facebook page began about four months ago, Telesa said. She hopes the website will be online within the next two weeks. Already, she said, the foundation has “a couple donors who are looking (to donate) on an annual basis,” she said.
Though the group mainly will have a social media-only presence, Via said it plans to set up a headquarters in Martinsville soon.
Patricia Via said counseling is one of the greatest needs after a cancer diagnosis.
“Everybody can’t accept the fact” that they have cancer, Patricia said. “It’s a tough road to travel.”
Though she and her family have researched the subject heavily to prepare for her own treatment, diagnosis and counseling, Patricia said the reason she began the foundation was to help those with cancer that do not have the same support resources she had.
“My main goal is to be there for those who need some advice” on their treatment and help them through the process, she said. “I’ve made it through the door, and now I’m holding the door and allowing someone else to walk through.”
In addition to the walk, the highlight of Saturday’s event was MLC awarding $1,000 to a cancer patient to help cover medical expenses, the release said. The featured speaker at the event was Rev. Shirley A. Gravely-Currie, who is Patricia Via’s cousin and a counselor for cancer patients in Maryland.