Olivia Meyerson would have liked to have known her grandmother and to have listened to her stories, but she never had the chance to do so.
That’s because Olivia’s grandmother died before she was born. Olivia’s mother, Chelsi Meyerson was just 12 years old when her mother – who would have been Olivia’s grandmother – succumbed to ovarian cancer.
To ensure that no one else should have the experience, Olivia and her younger brother, Mason, recently organized a fundraiser to benefit the Basser Center at the University of Pennsylvania.
“I thought about having a fundraiser,” said Olivia, who lives in Lawrence Township. She is an 8th-grader and her brother is a 6th-grader at The Pennington School.
“I brought the idea [of a fundraiser] to my mother. My grandmother died because of the BRCA gene mutation. The Basser Centeris trying to find a vaccine that would help to save so many lives and create options for future generations,” Olivia said.
Mason said he wanted to hold the fundraiser to support research “so no other families go through” having a family member develop a BCRA-linked cancer.
With some help and support from their family, Olivia and Mason raised about $10,000 through the fundraiser.
The Basser Center conducts research on a gene mutation that causes many types of cancer. Women who have inherited the BRCA gene are much more likely to develop breast or ovarian cancer, and men are at greater risk of developing prostate cancer. Both are more likely to develop pancreatic and melanoma cancers.
The Basser Center, which was begun in 2012, has made two promises, Olivia said. One promise is to develop a vaccine to halt BRCA gene mutation-related cancers, and the other is to create a blood test to discover pancreatic cancer.
Research into the BRCA gene is especially meaningful for Chelsi Meyerson – Olivia’s and Mason’s mother – because she discovered that she carries the BRCA gene. Her mother, grandmother and great-aunts had either breast or ovarian cancer, she said.
About nine years ago, Meyerson said, she was tested for the BRCA gene. When she was found to have the gene, she underwent surgery to ensure that she would not develop breast or ovarian cancer and leave her own children to be motherless.
“I had choices my mother did not have. I had knowledge that my mother did not have. I felt lucky to have the choices that my mother, my grandmother and my great-aunts did not have,” Meyerson said.
“While I am incredibly lucky and grateful to have the knowledge and choices that they did not have, I want better knowledge and choices for my children,” Meyerson said. She said she is proud that her children undertook the fundraiser.
Meyerson said she is proud of Olivia for shedding light on the important issue of BRCA genetic mutations, and for taking steps to help other girls who may be worried about their genetic makeup. At the same time, she is sad that Olivia has to worry about it herself.
Meyerson said she would encourage others to become aware of their genetic background so they can be empowered. Awareness is key, she said.
Although it is a private thing to go through, “we feel compelled to shout it out and try to save more lives,” Meyerson said.