In some cases, it’s easy to see what we’ve inherited from family, like mom’s smile or dad’s blue eyes.
But when it comes to specific health conditions, genetics may play a critical role for generations.
One extended family with a genetic form of stomach cancer had to make a potentially life-saving decision many members chose to take.
Beth Lamber, 54, comes from a big family.
She’s one of five siblings but in 2006, her brother Seve 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,” Lambert said.
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 is a certified genetic counselor.
She said a huge increase in the number of testing labs has made a recent, dramatic difference in the field
“So, in addition to bRCA1 and bRCA2, we can test for up to 80 different genes that are associated with cancer,” Shannon said.
One of those gene mutations are responsible for the aggressive stomach cancer that claimed Lambert’s brother.
“My sister Kathy tested positive. My brother Mike tested positive. Our brother Dave tested negative and then I tested positive,” Lambert said.
Since the cancer involved the lining of the stomach, prevention meant having their stomachs surgically removed.
“You know, people a lot of times are like, Oh my gosh, I didn’t know you could live without a stomach. That’s so radical and that I can’t believe you would ever do that.
And we always say it’s such a no-brainer to us,” Lambert said.
She and her brother Mike scheduled their surgeries on the same day. Then, focus shifted to the next generation.
Mike’s daughter Shannon Walsh tested positive for the CDH-1 gene in college.
She also chose to have her stomach removed.
“So, it went from a, you can wait as long as you want, sort of within reason to, you should really think about doing this,” Walsh said.
The family eats small meals.
No food is off limits, but some are easier to process than others.
Despite the challenges, Lambert 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,” Lambert said.
The family takes nutritional supplements to compensate for foods they have a hard time processing.
In addition to Walsh, one of Lambert’s children, and two of her brother’s children have tested positive for the stomach cancer gene.
The family is involved in a nonprofit group “No Stomach for Cancer” to raise awareness and money for research.