EATON: Confronting cancer – a father’s fear

Health & Fitness

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EDITOR’S NOTE: posted this story on Oct. 25, 2016. We are sharing it again in honor of breast cancer awareness month.

In October 2013, I walked into a Virginia hospital for a simple test that would change my life.

It would give me vital information about my personal health but, I’ll be honest, I was really there for my daughter, Emerson.

There was a chance my adorable 5-month-old was carrying a potentially deadly problem that’s been in my family for generations.

The breast cancer gene.

More specifically, a mutated gene that drastically increases our risks of getting and dying of cancer.


Nate Eaton meets with a nurse in 2013. | WRIC TV 8

“I watched my mother die early from breast cancer,” my mom, Alana Eaton, recalls. “She had it, her mother had it, my great-grandmother died of cancer and her brothers and sisters. She came from a very large family and nearly every one died of cancer at a very young age.”

The cancer rates were so alarming in my mom’s family that researchers at the University of Utah began studying their history in 1995.

They focused on BRCA1 – a gene everyone is born with but, in a very small group of people, the gene is mutated.

“Less than one percent of people have a mutated BRCA1 gene,” Dr. William Irvin of the Bon Secours Cancer Institute told me when I got the test. “For those few who do have it, aggressive measures are often taken.”

Many women, including Angelina Jolie, have a double mastectomy after learning they are BRCA1 positive.

Doctors recommended the same procedure to my mother when, at age 45, she tested positive for the mutation. She refused, but did undergo surgery.

“They recommended that I have my ovaries removed, because the risk is far greater to get ovarian cancer than breast cancer in my family,” she says.

My mother’s five siblings also had the BRCA test. Results were negative in every case except my aunt Margaret, who died of breast cancer in 2014 at age 50.

Because my mom is a carrier of the mutated gene, there was a 50/50 chance I was too. If so, there was a 50 percent chance Emerson and my son, Everett, could also be carriers.


Eaton decided to undergo the medical test after his daughter, Emerson, was born in June 2013. | WRIC TV 8

And that’s what led me to the hospital that October afternoon.

I decided to document the BRCA1 test for a TV news story to show others how painless, quick and easy it is.

I was in the exam room for less than two minutes and the actual test took 20 seconds. I simply swished mouthwash in my mouth and spit it into a container. That’s all.

Three weeks later, the results were back and I learned the news.


My test was negative.

That means my risk — and my daughter’s — of getting 
cancer is now the same as anybody else’s.

“Her risk of getting the gene is zero,” Dr. James Pellicane told me when the results came back. “It can’t 
skip a generation so if you don’t have it, she doesn’t have it.”

My two sisters and one brother have been tested and they are all BRCA1 
negative. My older brother plans to get the test soon.

My mother is now 65 (sorry, Mom!) and cancer free. She’s likely the longest living person in her family who has the mutated BRCA 1 gene.


Nate, Alana and Emerson Eaton in Oct. 2013 | WRIC TV 8

Every year, she has follow-up appointments at the University of Utah and she pays close attention to any changes in her health. She’s active and is living life to the fullest.

There are people reading this who have the BRCA1 mutation and may not even know it. If your family has a long history of breast or ovarian cancer, you may want to talk with your doctor and see if getting the test is right for you.

It’s made all the difference for me and my family.


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