Seattle Twins Go On a Mission to Save Their Half-Sister's LifeJune 14, 2012 @ 1:49 pm (Updated: 3:29 pm - 6/14/12 )
By Rachel Belle
In December, I introduced you to Kim Lavarello, a 43-year-old Seattle woman who tested positive for BRCA 1, a cancer causing gene that most often occurs in Ashkenazi Jews. Kim had her breasts and ovaries removed and then covered up her scars with beautiful tattoos. Kim's twin sister Stephanie was diagnosed with breast cancer a year before her and also carries the gene. The stories I did on Kim's tattoos and the BRCA1 gene struck a chord with a lot of you, so when I heard that there was much more to the twins' story, I decided to tell it.
When they were babies, Kim and Stephanie were put up for adoption in Florida and from there they moved all around the country.
"Raised in New Hampshire, actually went to school in New York, moved to Miami, then moved to LA and then moved here. We had been kind of around the map."
All the while, they wondered who their birth mother was. But because there was no medical emergency, they were not permitted to access her file.
"When Steph got diagnosed, we found that we both had the genetic mutation, the BRCA 1. It was finally our green light to find out what our medical history was like and if we had any siblings who could possibly, potentially carry the same gene."
The sisters hired an investigator to track their mother down, and were floored to see that she'd been living just 45 minutes away from them.
"Steph and I were both shocked when we found out that our biological mother had lived in Enumclaw and raised our half-sister there. I probably think about it everyday, like, how odd it is."
They also learned that their mother had died two years earlier of something the twins are very familiar with.
"She passed away in 2003 of metastatic breast cancer, her first [cancer scare happened] when she was 35. My sister Stephanie was 35 and I was 36 [when we were diagnosed]."
Knowing that all three women carried this cancer gene, they wanted to track down their half-sister and let her know that she needed to get tested. It took months for their sister Laura Jajo to get up the guts to call them back, but when she did...
"We told her right away that we have this gene for breast cancer and that's how we got the records to find our mother, who is the mother that we share, and you need to get tested as soon as possible."
They chatted for years before finally meeting, and now they are all very close. Laura got tested last year, and found out she also has the BRCA1 gene. At 38 years old, she wants to do what her half-sisters did: be pro-active and have her breasts and ovaries removed. But she doesn't have insurance to pay for it. Out of pocket, it would cost at least $200,000.
"She could have cancer right now. We hope not, she's been checking herself, but she hasn't had the opportunity to get an MRI. A mammogram did not reveal out cancers. Only the MRI did."
Just last week, KING 5 told the sisters story and when Swedish Hospital saw it, they made an incredible, life changing offer.
"Swedish was very compelled by the story so they offered to pay for Laura's mastectomy and reconstruction, and any other treatments she may need, for free. Absolutely no cost. I still can't believe it. I'm so grateful. If I had the money I would pay for it. It's really a blessing."
The Swedish connection adds just one more eerie little twist:
"One of the most surreal parts of the story: When we ended up finding our biological mother, we found her, not only living in Enumclaw, but she was being treated at Swedish, in the same facility as my twin sister, in the same room. In fact, in my twin sister's radiation picture, she's wearing the same robe and it's the same background as [our birth mother's] radiation picture. Very freaky."
At first Kim was hesitant to share her family's personal story, but she knows that spreading the word about getting tested can help save lives.
"I think it will inspire other people who are in that state of fear. You know, they think it's like the worst thing ever, when it actually is not. That is my goal, to make people not so scared of knowing these things."
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