Susan Farkas is a four-year survivor of aggressive form of cancer

By William K. Alcorn


For Susan Farkas, cancer is not a disease out there that everyone fears at some level. It is a scourge in her family.

And yet her message as keynote speaker at Humility of Mary Health Partners’ annual Cancer Survivor’s Picnic was one of hope.

“Stay positive. Keep a positive attitude,” she urged the 160 survivors and HMHP medical staff who attended the picnic Thursday at the Maronite Center on Meridian Road.

Farkas, an elementary- school art teacher for Boardman schools, has the BRCA1 gene. She is a four-year survivor of the rare, aggressive, hereditary form of breast cancer it can produce.

According to the Mayo Clinic website, the BRCA gene test is a blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes (mutations) in either one of the two breast-cancer susceptibility genes — BRCA1 and BRCA2.

Women who have inherited mutations in these genes face a much higher risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer compared with the general population.

Not only did Farkas, 48, have cancer, she lost her mother, Joanne Shook, to colon cancer in 1986. Her husband died of lung cancer in 2001, and her younger sister, Dyan Bailey in Minnesota, has survived cancer diagnosed in 2008.

Farkas, worried that her 16-year-old daughter, Sydney Lewis, a student at Boardman High School, may develop cancer. She said Sydney will undergo the BRAC1 gene test when she is 19.

Farkas said when the results of the BRAC1 gene test is positive, there is an 87 percent risk of breast cancer.

As a preventive measure, she scheduled a full hysterectomy, but before the surgery she found a lump in her breast.

Her decision was to have not only the hysterectomy, but a double mastectomy, both of which she underwent in January 2010 at the Cleveland Clinic, where she also received chemotherapy.

She received radiation treatments and other follow-up care at HMHP’s St. Elizabeth Boardman Health Center.

“The biggest thing I want to say if you have cancer, are a survivor or a caregiver, is to try to look on the good side of things and depend on the people around you. You can’t do it alone,” Farkas said.

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