October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is hard not to notice the pink ribbons everywhere. For most of us that brings to mind the friends and family members who have had the misfortune to battle this disease with varying degrees of success. Perhaps you have done this yourself. For those parents who know that the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene exists in their family and who have young daughters, there is another challenge - when and how do I tell my daughter about this? It is important to remember that this gene can be passed down through the father as well as the mother.
There are differing opinions on timing. Should you tell your daughter in her early teens, late teens, or early 20s? When is the appropriate time from an emotional maturity perspective? This needs to be weighed against the issues associated with making sure that she is aware of the significant health risk she faces, and the associated life choices. Experts disagree about the appropriate age, as described in a New York Times article addressing exactly this topic. One thing is clear, how you as a parent treat the topic from an emotional perspective is important. Remaining calm and caring is important to your child’s ability to process this information in a healthy way. If you have significant anxiety as a parent this will have an impact on your daughter and how she takes in the information. If you are not able to remain calm, you may wish to enlist the aid of a professional in the discussion, such as your OBGYN or a therapist. In the end it is important that she has the opportunity to, over time, make her own decisions and get appropriate medical and psychological counseling. As a developing young woman, processing this information will not be easy. It will impact her medically as well as, most likely her image of herself as a woman sexually, and as a future mother. Professional guidance with calm and non-judgmental parental support is the most advisable route.
Wishing everyone calm and a healthful October,