Last week, I wrote about the Breast Cancer Risk Assessment Tool that the National Cancer Institute has placed online at

As it happens, I was able to give Dr. Kimberly Lieber a copy of that Family Ties column since we had a date for surgery that day.

I was glad that we had a few minutes to discuss the the column because it turns out I misunderstood something about breast cancer. I thought that the BRCA-1 gene and BRCA-2 gene are something that only women have. Men can have them, too.

So my presumption that only daughters could inherit those genes was wrong.

The first time I filled out the BCRAT questionnaire, I made another presumption that was wrong, as well. When asked whether I had the BRCA-1 gene or BRCA-2 gene, I answered no. But I’ve never been tested for that gene, so the correct answer would have been unknown.

What’s a first-degree relative, anyway? For the purposes of the BCRAT, first-degree relatives appear to include only your mother, your sisters and your daughters. The question asks whether any of these relatives have had breast cancer.

But once I read the questionnaire all the way through, I saw that male relatives were not to be considered immune to the BRCA genes.

I actually took a class in public opinion in college, and the more I use this questionnaire, the more I think it needs to be rewritten to be a little clearer.

Fortunately, my surgeon and the laboratory she used were a lot more user-friendly. The surgery went very well, I was told. Not many days later, I received word that the biopsy of the lump, which I chose to have removed, was benign.

“See, you didn’t even need to have it removed.”

No, I did, because I would have worried about it.

I don’t say that my choice is right for everyone, which is why I also discussed it with my primary care provider.

Last week I closed the column with a reminder that heart disease is the No. 1 killer.

I have only one first-degree relative that has died. That is my father, who died of congestive heart failure, due to cardiomyopathy, due to coronary heart disease. I should mention here that he was a smoker for many years. But he didn’t smoke the last several years of his life, and so he was able to have coronary artery bypass, which brought him several very good years that he otherwise wouldn’t have had.

I never smoked, but I do have the opportunity to make better choices about what I eat and about getting exercise. If I choose well, I may get some of those extra years my dad enjoyed with his family.

I think it is well worth getting as many death certificates as possible to get a picture of your family’s health over the past century. More about that next week.


The Brewer Historical Society will hold election of officers at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 13, in the Community Room at Machias Savings Bank, 581 Wilson St. Take the elevator to the second floor. All are welcome, and refreshments will be served.


The Penobscot County Genealogical Society and the University of Maine Fogler Library will sponsor a tour of Fogler Library on the University of Maine campus 5-7 p.m. Wednesday, May 21, beginning in Special Collections on the third floor at Fogler, which is right across from the Memorial Union on campus in Orono. All are welcome. You need to stop and get a parking pass at 81 Rangeley Road. For information, email Elizabeth Stevens at Bangor Public Library,


The Michaud Family Reunion meeting will be held at 6 p.m. June 3, at the St. Agatha town office meeting room. The Michaud Reunion will be held Aug. 16 in the St. Agatha Church Hall and parking lot.

The Saucier Reunion will be held Sunday, Aug. 10, in Wallagrass, including a program on Franco-American genealogy, time to be announced. I will not be attending other reunions due to family activities, but everyone is welcome to attend the program on Aug. 10.

For information on researching family history in Maine, see Genealogy Resources under Family Ties at Send genealogy queries to Family Ties, Bangor Daily News, P.O. Box 1329, Bangor 04402, or email

Roxanne Moore Saucier

Family Ties columnist