A Legacy of Cancer

In terms of the psychological aspect of a mastectomy, sisters Gina Beavers and Kristi Bruns have different outlooks.

"Kristi was speaking about how there's an external part of her and I understand that, because, I mean, I think all women -- it's an external part of your body," said Beavers. "But I have a different take on it. They were given to us to feed our kids and I fed two. I don't know what else to say but that. I don't need them. They don't make me."

But in the process of the discussion, Beavers' cousin Garner brought a different perspective to the table: "You better talk to your husband a little bit."

In a way, there was some truth in that comment. What happens if your spouse opposes the surgery? Bruns' twin sister Amber Vickers has been married for only two months and has not yet had kids.

"I think [my husband] probably agrees," Vickers said. "If something arises, then take care of it and take those kind of steps."

But in terms of preemptive surgery? Vickers thought her husband would say no.

Not Just a Women's Issue

In the older generation of the family, sisters Susan Davis and Linda Nicholson decided -- after seeing their mother die of ovarian cancer -- to have their ovaries and uteruses removed. Even then, Davis eventually developed breast cancer.

For Nicholson, seeing her sister get breast cancer made up her mind. She took extreme measures, undergoing preemptive surgery to remove both her breasts.

"My sister was diagnosed," Nicholson explained. "By that time, I now had two first degree relatives who were diagnosed with breast and/or ovarian cancer, and that's when we said, together with a group of doctors, said, 'You know, I don't really have any options.'"

This is not just a female thing. A man who has the mutation -- like Davis and Nicholson's brother Steve Halt -- is also at a greater risk for cancer, including breast cancer. Halt put off getting tested for a long time.

"I was kind of in denial," Halt explained.

As a carrier of the BRCA gene, Halt is at greater risk for prostate cancer, colon cancer, pancreatic cancer and even breast cancer.

One member of the younger generation was not there on the day we talked with the family. Jennifer Davis' brother Richard Davis died earlier this year in a motorcycle accident. But Richard had the mutation, as does his cousin Jeff Garner.

The Next Generation

In a documentary called "In the Family," (Kartemquin Films) Richard Davis expressed that what he feared most was passing the gene down to future generations.

"If I had a female child, that's scary," he said. "My last relationship was with someone who was interested in kids. I definitely feel like [it] wasn't something she told me was a problem, but I definitely feel like it went through her mind and it was a concern of hers."

Richard's sister Jennifer still faces some of those very questions. Jennifer told "Nightline" that she will tell her next boyfriend that she has this cancer-causing gene, and she thinks that some men will be scared away.

"It's one of those things, you take it or leave it," Jennifer said.

Despite the high risk this family has for developing cancer, they are resigned to the way the genetic "dice" have fallen. There is not much self-pity among the group.

"What are you going to do?" Garner said. "You got what you got."

Of course it's not that simple, because there's a new generation coming along. The kids Jennifer said she hopes to have some day -- will they have the mutation? Maybe, but you can't test until someone is 18. That can be quite a long wait, with so much at stake, to find out if you got what you got.

To find out more about hereditary ovarian and breast cancer, visit FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered).

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