Michael DelGrosso wants to protect his daughter Sofia. That's why he walks her home from school after meeting her at the bus stop. She's the one who prompted him take his family medical history seriously. His two aunts and his sister were all treated for breast cancer, and his father was one of fewer than 1% of men diagnosed with the disease.
Michael explains, "it wasn't until my wife was diagnosed and I started thinking not only about my health, but the health of our now 6-year-old daughter that really motivated me to get out there and get tested."
Michael took a blood test, looking at BRCA 1 and BRCA 2, tumor supressor genes, that if mutated, increase the risk for hereditary breast and other cancers. He got the same result as his dad, sister and aunts.
"I'm at higher risk because I carry the BRCA 2 genetic mutation, substantially higher than the general population, but not only of breast cancer but also prostate cancer." The BRCA 2 mutation also raises the risk of ovarian cancer in women, and skin cancers, including melanoma of the eye, in both genders.
"It's a devastating experience," says Sherry Delgrosso.
Michael's wife isn't talking about his discovery. She's referring to her breast cancer diagnosis at the age of 40. She says, " for me my greatest concern was for myself, Michael and especially Sofia. That and her background in nursing led Sherry to choose double mastectomy, although the cancer was confined to one breast.
"For the last year and a half we were in fight mode in terms of being able to just live day by day and fight the cancer," she says, "Now, we're in survival mode and I made those choices so I could live my survivor phase of my life from now to very long in the future."
Sofia knows her mommy was sick for awhile, but her parents haven't talked to her about the family's unique experience with breast cancer and that she has a 50-50 chance of inheriting her father's BRCA 2 gene mutation. She'll be tested later. Right now, they're focusing on making sure that Sofia follows a healthy lifestyle, to decrease her risk for cancer.
Her mother says, "some of it's completely out of your hand. If you don't have faith, you'll bury yourself into negativity, as well as a lifestyle that will not allow you to live."
And as Michael sees it, "we've had our moments where we've stopped back and realized what a gift we have in our family, our relationship with each other and our daughter and we want to make sure we're maximizing our life together."
He's gone public with the story in hopes it will inspire other people to explore their own family medical history. The couple agrees, it's not good to get a unsettling test result, but having that knowledge gives you the power to deal with it.
Michael DelGrosso is a vice president at DelGrosso Foods, Inc. in Tipton. During Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October, the company donates a portion of the receipts for sales of three of its pasta sauces to the effort to fight the disease.