From disempowerment to empowerment

How Telesa broke free from generational cancer

Telesa Via headshot

When you think about your journey—and your journey may not be cancer, it may be something else—remember my story.

Self education is self empowerment. And self empowerment is seeking the solution rather than fixating on the problem. What are you going to do to go from disempowerment to empowerment?

- Telesa

Telesa's story

Telesa understands loss due to cancer. She lost her grandfather Levi to lung cancer. Her grandmother Myrtle to breast cancer. Her grandfather Ernest to kidney cancer. Her aunt Darlene to ovarian cancer.

Some cancers can run in families, leaving Telesa with the knowledge that her family’s health history meant cancer could be in her future too.

But she refuses to believe she is next. Instead, Telesa embraces tools and information that weren’t available in previous generations, or to all communities. And she inspires others to do the same.

“I’m not going to accept that that’s how it needs to be,” says Telesa, Vice President of Sales at Kimpton Hotels & Restaurants. “I’ve empowered myself to do everything I can to never be diagnosed with cancer. And I want others to empower themselves to do the same.”

In the mid 1990s, Telesa’s grandmother, Myrtle Carter, was at a routine check-up when her doctor told her that he saw “a little something” on a screening test—but that it was fine and she didn’t have to worry about it.

“My grandmother, like many generations, lived and breathed what the doctor said,” Telesa says. “She took him at his word and did not follow up. A year and a half after that, she passed away from breast cancer.”

Ten years later, Telesa’s mother, Patricia, found something that didn’t feel right during a breast self-exam. After a mammogram, her doctor told her there wasn’t anything there. But Patricia knew there was something wrong. She continued to go back until, at her third appointment, her doctor finally found what she was feeling. She had stage 2B breast cancer.

“I was so scared. Everyone that I knew who had been diagnosed with cancer had passed away. All I knew was cancer and then death,” Telesa says. “But I told her ‘We’re going on this journey together. We’re going to fight like two bad boss women.’”

Together, Patricia and Telesa sought out the best specialists and armed themselves with all the information they could. They learned about genetic testing—and, given their extensive family history of cancer, realized they both should have been tested long before Patricia’s diagnosis.

Patricia’s genetic results came back positive: She had a change in her BRCA2 gene that increased her risk of developing certain cancers. As a result, she underwent more aggressive treatment, including a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries, to reduce her risk of developing another cancer in the future.

Telesa also got tested for the same genetic change. Her results came back positive too.

Instead of being scared and waiting for a diagnosis, Telesa took charge. She found a high-risk cancer doctor and started getting a mammogram and an MRI every year, so that if she develops breast cancer, she’ll find it at its earliest, most treatable stage. She also had her ovaries removed, since there currently isn’t a good way to screen for ovarian cancer.

“By testing positive for BRCA2, I had up to an 85% chance of getting breast cancer and up to a 27% chance of getting ovarian cancer,” Telesa says. “Once I got my ovaries removed, that significantly reduced my risk of getting ovarian cancer and also helped reduce my risk of breast cancer.”

By exercising 6 days a week and focusing on eating well, Telesa worked to keep herself healthy in every way.

“You can see how I started to take my life into my own hands,” she says. “I became much more empowered with the knowledge that I was able to gather, and have been able to impact my life.”

In addition to her BRCA2 test, Telesa also decided to get additional genetic testing. Her original test only looked to see if she had the same genetic change as her mom, but with the Invitae Cancer Screen, Telesa was able to check 61 genes for changes that increase a person’s risk for cancer—which for many people identifies a need for additional prevention strategies or provides reassurance that they’re likely not at increased risk based on their genetics.

“When you think about your journey—and your journey may not be cancer, it may be something else—remember my story,” Telesa says. “Self education is self empowerment. And self empowerment is seeking the solution rather than fixating on the problem. What are you going to do to go from disempowerment to empowerment?”

Image of Telesa Via

Today, Patricia has been in remission for 11 years and Telesa remains cancer-free.

Together, they co-founded the MLC Cancer Foundation.

The foundation was Patricia’s brainchild. “Just after she was diagnosed with cancer, my mom looked over at me and said she wanted two things,” Telesa says. “One was that she wanted a grandchild—which I told her wasn’t going to happen. The other was for me to help her start an organization to help others. Here she was, just diagnosed with breast cancer, and she’s thinking about everybody else, and not herself.”

Named in honor of Patricia’s mother, Myrtle Lee Carter, the MLC Cancer Foundation offers financial assistance to cancer patients and education about cancer prevention, including genetic testing.