First ever virtual BRCA seminar in Ireland

More than 70 men and women attend first ever virtual BRCA seminar in Ireland

The Marie Keating Foundation’s 3rd annual BRCA seminar was held online today for the first time in response to COVID-19 restrictions, with more than 70 participants tuning in to receive expert and peer to peer advice and support.

The half day seminar for men and women who are positive for the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene, covered a range of topics relevant to anyone navigating a BRCA diagnosis including prophylactic surgery, genetic counselling, menopause and ongoing support.

Speakers at today’s event, which is kindly supported by MSD and Astra Zeneca, included renowned Consultant Clinical Geneticist at the Royal Marsden Dr Terri McVeigh, Breast Oncoplastic Surgeon Dr Reem Salman, Professor Killian Walsh Consultant Urologist, GP Dr Deirdre Forde and genetic counsellors Eoin Hanney and Claire Giffney.

Often referred to as the Angelina Jolie gene, the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes increases a woman’s chance of getting certain cancers including breast and ovarian and a man’s chance of getting other cancers such as prostate cancer.

As a result of COVID-19 some BRCA services such as testing, referrals and counselling have been curtailed, postponed or cancelled. Navigating a BRCA journey in normal circumstances can be a very stressful and difficult time but the added uncertainty of current circumstances is only adding to these feelings.

Dr Terri McVeigh Consultant Clinical Geneticist at the Royal Marsden NHS Foundation Trust spoke at today’s event “finding out that you carry an alteration in BRCA1 or BRCA2 can be extremely daunting, because of the implications for your own cancer risk, but also for your family members. However, knowing you have a BRCA alteration is very empowering, because it gives you a chance to undertake risk-reducing strategies to minimise your risk of developing cancer. Deciding how and when to undertake these risk-reducing interventions is often complex, and depends on a whole host of factors, including your age, gender, body image, relationship status, and personal and family history of cancer. Seminars such as this are vitally important so that people have accurate, up-to-date advice from a multi-disciplinary team of experts to inform their management, and also, to get the support from the wider BRCA community, so that patients don’t feel so alone in making these life-altering decisions.”

At last year’s seminar the Marie Keating Foundation launched Ireland’s only dedicated peer to peer BRCA support service. Anyone in need of support can fill out a form on the MKF website and one of seven trained volunteers all with personal BRCA stories will be in touch. One of the volunteers is Abaigeal Jackson, she explains why it is so important that year’s seminar went ahead “Learning to live with the knowledge that you have an increased risk of cancer due to a BRCA mutation can be a heavy burden to bear. At a time when we are apart from families and each other, it is even more important that support is there for those who need it. It is vital that the Marie Keating Foundation BRCA webinar goes ahead because feelings of worry, frustration, fear and anger won’t simply disappear at this time. It is important that individuals and families affected by a BRCA mutation know they are not alone”

We are doing all we can at the Marie Keating Foundation to ensure that our services continue to be available, and that we are here supporting all those in our community as much as we can. We are aware of the anxiety and stress that delays in genetic testing, results, referrals, and access to services is having for those on a BRCA journey, so it was really crucial that today’s webinar take place. We hope it provided a safe space for all those registered to come to share and learn from experts and others in a similar position. Holding today’s BRCA webinar with more than 70 attendees was a first for us at MKF but also a first for this community in Ireland. Despite all the trying and difficult times we are all facing during the COVID-19 crisis, there are positive and important steps that are being taken every day to better support people who are on difficult paths during this challenging time and that is certainly something to try to focus on in a positive way.”  Helen Forristal, Director of Nursing Services, Marie Keating Foundation