By Corinne Berg
I grew up in fear of breast cancer because my mom's only sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s and struggled with it for 12 years. We would have family events, and she would be sick, bald and miserable. Years later, I graduated with a bachelor's in sports management from Minnesota State University, Mankato. While I enjoyed it, I knew there was something more I was called to do.
By then, I was married and had a mother-in-law and sister-in-law who were both nurses at Mayo Clinic, and they loved it. In fact, my mother-in-law has now worked for Mayo for 45 years. To try my hand at nursing, I first took a nursing assistant course, and I loved it. I decided to go back to school for nursing and work as a patient care assistant to gain some experience.
During this time, I read an article about a girl with Ashkenazi Jewish ancestry who had a BRCA mutation that increased her risk of breast cancer. My mom encouraged me to bring the article to my doctor given our Jewish ancestry and the fact that there were family members on both sides of my family who had breast cancer. My physician was in support of me being tested for the BRCA mutation, but I thought I'd be best suited to see a genetics counselor to review my risk.
After meeting with the counselor, she didn't think I'd have the BRCA mutation because there weren't enough family members with the disease. We went ahead with the test anyway. I'll never forget the day she called me with the results. She was crying and said, "Cori, I'm sorry to tell you this, but you do have the BRCA2 mutation."
At this point, I didn't know which parent passed it down, and I was scared for them and my sister. My mom and sister were tested and found out that they had the BRCA2 mutation, as well. I scheduled a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy for a month later. Having a mastectomy has decreased my risk of breast cancer. I am at less risk than the average female.
After graduating from nursing school, my first job was at Mayo Clinic Hospital — Rochester, Methodist Campus. I worked with people who had the BRCA mutation and also those with breast cancer undergoing treatment. I knew what it was like to lose a part of yourself and not always be in control. I was able to bring my own experiences and provide empathetic care to my patients. My passion has always been in education and empowering patients to make the decisions that are best for them.
Now I work side by side with genetic counselors as a nurse in predictive genomics in the Center for Individualized Medicine. We offer a unique service to executive health patients who want to know more about their genetic risks, including cancer and cardiovascular issues. We are working on developing education materials for men with BRCA because we want others to know it's not just women who have a BRCA mutation. It can affect males and females, and cause breast, ovarian, pancreatic, melanoma and prostate cancer.
I also volunteer for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered as a peer-to-peer navigator, providing resources to those who have an increased genetic risk for cancers. The organization is a nonprofit devoted to those with hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. I also run a support group once a month at Mayo Clinic's Dan Abraham Healthy Living Center for those with hereditary cancers.
Right now, I am pursuing my master's in nursing education and feel I am right where I'm supposed to be. I am helping educate and empower people.