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Genetic Counseling: The Gift of Knowing and Preparing

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carla belken with her three children

Carla Belken, Executive Director of Hospital Operations at UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital, has worked in healthcare for more than 30 years in a variety of roles and capacities. She started as a hospital volunteer, before being hired as a CNA and working her way up to a hospital leadership position. Through everything she has experienced as a healthcare professional, Carla will never forget the personal experience that sparked her interest in becoming a nurse – her mother’s battle with cancer.

Carla grew up in a small family with a long history of cancer. She was only 12 years old when her mother passed away from what was believed to be ovarian cancer. A few decades later her father and her brother were both battling cancer. They were faced with separate types of cancer, but cancer nonetheless.

Having a nursing background, Carla understood cancer can be hereditary, and first-line relatives are at the greatest risk. In 2016, shortly after the Wendt Center started offering genetic counseling as a free service thanks to the Pink Ribbon Open Golf Outing, Carla made a proactive decision to go through genetic counseling and testing. She reached out to the Wendt Center, the area’s leading cancer center, to start the process. After counseling, Carla decided testing was an appropriate next step for her. The appointment was quick. Carla provided her family history and gave a saliva and blood sample.

“The decision to go through genetic counseling and testing was easy for me,” said Carla. “I trust providers and their expertise, and I wasn’t scared. It really was a no brainer because I knew I wanted to do everything I could to live without a cancer diagnosis.”

Through her genetic counseling results, Carla tested positive for the BRCA2 gene and learned that she had an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer. The results took her by surprise.

“I didn’t know a lot about BRCA2,” said Carla. “I was more worried about ovarian cancer. Genetic counseling helped me prepare for what comes next and educate my kids about their risk.”

Finley Hospital’s genetic counselor, Shana Coker, NP was able to provide Carla with the resources she needed to move forward with preventative measures for both ovarian and breast cancers.

“Finley Hospital handed me a gift through genetic counseling,” said Carla. “I am now able to live healthier and be an advocate for others who have a family history of cancer.”

Since Carla’s genetic counseling appointment, one of her two daughters was diagnosed with breast cancer and the other tested positive for the BRCA2 gene. Her son has yet to go through genetic counseling, but Carla says he has a 50/50 chance of testing positive for the BRCA2 gene as well. Carla wants others to know the importance of communication with your family. Knowing your family’s health history can prepare you to take the appropriate steps to live a happy and healthy life.

Learn more about UnityPoint Health – Finley Hospital’s Genetic Counseling services.