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Published: Sunday, March 25, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Providence nurse helps women face cancer

  • Joy Varady is a nurse practitioner who specializes in cancer risk assessment and genetic testing.

    Michael O'Leary / The Herald

    Joy Varady is a nurse practitioner who specializes in cancer risk assessment and genetic testing.

Joy Varady often has lots of explaining to do.
She and another nurse practitioner give biopsy results to patients at Providence Regional Medical Center's Comprehensive Breast Center.
It means telling women to their faces that they have breast cancer.
"We're the 'bad news girls,' " Varady said.
It gets better from there.
"I educate them about cancer and let them know what's going on," she said. "The unknowns are scary. Women like to know the answers. The what-ifs."
This can start with something as basic as drawing a family tree. Not just tracing the lines, but pinpointing who died when and how.
"So many people do not know their family history," Varady said. "I give them homework to do. Sometimes it means getting copies of death certificates."
The assessment, if it shows early-onset cancer deaths, can lead to the option of a blood test revealing whether the culprit is a harmful inherited gene.
"I can tell people, 'You don't carry it.' Or if you have it, you can do something about it," she said.
The gene can wreak havoc on other parts.
"We're not just looking at breasts. We're looking at ovaries," she said.
It's not an absolute: Not all carriers get cancer, she said, but "increased surveillance" might be in order.
Normal genes shouldn't give women a false sense of security to avoid routine screening tests and ignore warning signs.
"Most people who develop breast cancer did not inherit an abnormal breast cancer gene and have no family history of the disease," she said.
Regardless of the root, women facing cancer have choices.
"You will do what is right for you," Varady said. "What your neighbor or sister will do is totally different."

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