Clarisa Nido loves to run, particularly 5Ks. Her office at Sahuarita Intermediate School is filled with trophies and running bibs she hopes will inspire her students to take care of themselves.
Nido, 38, also hopes to inspire grown-ups, too, but on a whole other level.
The SIS principal is at home recovering from a radical hysterectomy. Six years ago, she discovered she has the BRCA 1 gene mutation that predisposes women to breast and ovarian cancer and increases their risk of developing other types of cancers.
In 2011, her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in one breast. When doctors discovered one of her six sisters had had ovarian cancer, they suggested Nido's mom undergo genetic testing.
The tests showed she had the BRCA 1 gene mutation, giving her a 40 percent chance of getting cancer in the other breast and a 44 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. Instead of having a lumpectomy, Nido’s mom had a double mastectomy and a hysterectomy.
Those days were tough, Nido said. She and her sister, Angelica, 36, took turns taking her mom to cancer treatments and helped take care of her while she was recovering.
What was also rough, though, was their mother’s gene mutation meant Nido and her sister had a 50 percent chance of having the gene, too.
If they inherited it, it meant they were just as likely to get ovarian cancer as their mom, and their chances of developing breast cancer was 72 percent.
“As soon as my mom got her results, she said, ‘You have to get tested and all of my sisters have to, too,’” Nido said.
'I was really scared'
Most of her aunts left their futures to fate, but Nido took the test because she never wanted her children, Katie, 14, and Santino, 11, to see her suffer through cancer treatment.
“I was really scared, but you just spit into a Scope bottle. It was so easy, you just swish,” Nido said. “The waiting for the results was the scary part.”
Her worst fears were confirmed. She has the mutation. A short while later, her sister, too, received the same devastating news.
“It just hit me. ‘Oh my goodness, I have to do all of these surgeries.' It just overwhelmed me,” Nido said.
What came next was a series of appointments and tests with genetic counselors, oncologists and gynecologists.
In July 2012, at the age of 32, the single mom of two underwent a double mastectomy.
“The day before the mastectomy I stopped at McDonald’s and I just cried,” Nido said. “I thought about how much I was going to change...I’m a single lady. Who’s going to date someone like me? I finally had to realize that I either do this or I get cancer later.”
The recovery process was long and painful, but Nido said she returned to running and she’s been in three half-marathons and has run the Grand Canyon rim to rim.
She had opted against having a hysterectomy, but when she hit 36, her doctors began pushing her to have one.
“I just started crying. I was thinking this was the last part of me that feels like a woman; I don’t have real boobs anymore,” Nido said. “I just couldn’t do it. I walked out.”
Cancer was never far from her mind, but it wasn’t until September that she felt she was strong enough to go through with it.
She had the surgery March 21 and is due back at school May 7.
“It was a huge relief,” Nido said. “It was so much easier than I thought it would be, emotionally and the surgery itself. I’m so OK with it. I feel the same. I don’t feel incomplete. I am still the same person. I thought there’d be some dramatic change.”
Her family and the school district have been tremendously supportive throughout the whole process. Her one regret is that while she’s been able to find a lot of support from people with BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 through Facebook and Instagram, early on she and her sister couldn’t find any support groups in Tucson for young women.
She and her sister, who has not yet undergone any surgeries, want to start a support group. There is just so much for people to work through, including whether they should be tested if they’ve got loved ones with the mutation.
When Nido underwent genetic testing, her insurance didn’t cover the $500 cost. She was thrilled to learn the FDA gave 23andMe, the genomics and biotechnology company, permission to provide BRCA testing last month.
It’s also difficult figuring out how to talk to their children and dealing with the guilt they may feel if they’ve passed it on, Nido said.
“It’d be nice just to sit and talk about the questions and doubts, the sexuality aspect of it and how women can talk to their husbands about it,” Nido said. “This involves a lot of grief and loss.”
Nido also wants to promote healthy lifestyles and regular health exams, including mammograms and pap smears.
“People need to get tested, they need to have their annual checkups,” she said. “Ovarian cancer or cervical cancer, they’re so scary and I know so many women who have had breast cancer and if we can prevent that, that would be huge.”
Kim Smith | 547-9740