BOSTON, Ma. - Fifty-four-year-old Beth Lambert comes from a big family. She’s one of five siblings, but in 2006, her brother Steve died from a rare form of stomach cancer.
“Just watching our brother go from someone who was so full of life, and he really was as much as he could be up until the end,” remembered Beth.
At the same time, their mother was battling colon cancer. Her cancer cells had the same unusual signet cell pattern as Steve’s. An alert physician suggested a genetic test.
Kristen Shannon, a certified genetic counselor at Mass. General Cancer Center, said a huge increase in the number of testing labs has made a recent, dramatic difference in the field.
“In addition to BRCA1 and BRCA2, we can test for up to 80 different genes that are associated with cancer,” Shannon explained.
One of those genes, the CDH1 mutation, is responsible for the aggressive stomach cancer that claimed Beth’s brother.
“My sister Kathy tested positive. My brother Mike tested positive. Our brother Dave tested negative and then I tested positive,” said Beth.
Since the cancer involved the lining of the stomach, prevention meant having their stomachs surgically removed.
Beth and her brother Mike scheduled their surgeries on the same day, then, the focus shifted to the next generation. Mike’s daughter Shannon Walsh tested positive for the CDH1 gene in college. She also chose to have her stomach removed.
“It went from a, ‘You can wait as long as you want, sort of within reason’ to, ‘You should really think about doing this,'” said Walsh.
Beth and her family eat small meals. No food is off limits, but some are easier to process than others. Despite the challenges, Beth is thankful their mother started them on the path to uncovering their genetic risk.
“If she hadn't done that, you know, we'd be telling a very different story. We probably wouldn't be here to tell this story, to be honest,” expressed Beth.
Beth and her family take nutritional supplements to compensate for foods they have a hard time processing. In addition to Beth’s niece Shannon, one of Beth’s children, and two of her brother Steve’s children, have tested positive for the stomach cancer gene.
The family is involved in a non-profit group called “No Stomach for Cancer” to raise awareness and money for research. They said it’s important to pay attention to your family health history, and if illness seems to follow a pattern, find a genetic counselor to offer guidance.