When Eileen Youtie was diagnosed with breast cancer in December 2013, she accepted not only the challenge to fight for herself, but the opportunity to help others by raising awareness about hereditary cancers.
Eileen’s cancer was traced to a BRCA gene, a genetic mutation that greatly increases a woman’s risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer. Hereditary mutations of the BRCA gene are far more prevalent in people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, like Eileen, than in the general population — about one in 40 compared with one in 500. Believing that the course of her cancer may have been different if she had been aware of her increased risk, Eileen became a passionate and vocal advocate of early screening and genetic testing.
Eileen sits on the board of directors of Yodeah (“to know” in Hebrew), an outreach organization dedicated to educating people about the BRCA gene and facilitating cost-effective testing to save lives through prevention and early detection. Yodeah has since joined forces with Sophia George, Ph.D., at Sylvester, whose research studies the BRCA mutations that are prevalent among Caribbean women. Together, Yodeah and Dr. George are working to spread awareness of preventive strategies for reducing breast and ovarian cancers in the community at large.
Vivacious and upbeat, Eileen also channels her considerable energy into survivorship work and involvement with women’s cancer groups. Even as she continues to fight her own cancer, she mentors other patients, helping them to navigate the ups and downs associated with their treatment.
Throughout her journey, Eileen has been supported by her loving family, formed deep connections with other cancer survivors, and enjoyed a special camaraderie with her doctors. Fittingly, she crossed the DCC X finish line with her sister, one of her friends who is also a cancer survivor, and Carmen J. Calfa, M.D., of Sylvester, whom Eileen has known since her initial diagnosis.
“You have to focus on making every moment of your life count,” Eileen said. “If you have purpose, it gets you through so much.”
Sophia George, Ph.D.
Research Associate Professor, Obstetrics, Gynecology & Reproductive Science
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
University of Miami Miller School of Medicine
Sylvester offers patients like Eileen both genomic sequencing — testing of DNA from tumors to identify cancer-promoting genetic mutations — and therapy options and clinical trials that target those specific mutations. The philanthropic support of the DCC is vital in helping to bring these precision medicine clinical trials to Sylvester.
About 15 to 20 percent of breast cancer diagnoses are currently attributed to genetic mutations, most commonly in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene. When these alterations are identified through testing, it can help to determine a patient’s eligibility for precision medicine clinical trials and potentially change the course of their disease.
Generally designed for patients who have exhausted other, more conventional forms of treatment, these trials treat each cancer according to its unique genetic markers, allowing for individualized care that is more precise and less toxic, and that often produce better and longer-lasting results.
Dr. George’s laboratory work focuses on BRCA gene mutations linked to aggressive breast and ovarian cancers in Caribbean women, using fallopian tube epithelial cells to study early genomic changes that lead to cancer. Her precision prevention research has received direct funding from the DCC for two consecutive years, and will translate to saving many lives by educating women in this high-risk category about preventative cancer treatment options such as bilateral salpingectomy (removal of both fallopian tubes) and oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries).Share this story
Carmen J. Calfa, M.D.
Medical Oncologist, Breast Cancer
Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center
Dr. Calfa participates every year in the DCC with her patients, family and friends.