FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered
FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered

Irene Rodda and her family
Irene Rodda Brings New Support to Those Facing Hereditary Risk of Cancer

As a young girl growing up in the Queens Borough of New York City, Irene Rodda remembers visiting the graves of her maternal family.

“It was depressing,” she recalls. “They all died before the age of 40.” That stuck with Rodda. She just knew cancer would take her life as it had her relatives.  Then, in 1998, another untimely death hit home. Literally. Rodda’s father was diagnosed with leukemia, and nine months later he died. Rodda thought her fate was sealed.

But it wasn’t until her mother was diagnosed with early (stage zero) breast cancer in 2008 that Rodda decided to become pro-active with this black cloud that seemed to be hanging over her family. She opted to get tested for the BRCA gene, a human gene in a class known as tumor suppressors. The BRCA gene was named by the scientist who discovered it, Mary Claire King, PhD. King named it for French pathologist, Paul Broca, who is noted to be one of the first to recognize breast cancer pedigrees as early as 1866.

See it in Film

Decoding Annie Parker, premiering this fall, is based on the true story of a woman similar to Rodda and parallels the life of scientist Dr. Mary Claire King, depicting her struggles as she discovers the BRCA gene.

On To Memphis

Rodda tested positive for the BRCA II gene mutation. So for the next several years, with the knowledge that she had an 84 percent chance of developing breast cancer, she underwent frequent diagnostic mammograms, each time experiencing panic and anxiety as she waited for the test results. She eventually found a support group via the Boston Chapter of Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered, or FORCE. In October, 2012, Rodda attended the FORCE annual conference which she said was both informative and empowering. She was inspired by the women she met; some who had opted for mastectomies and others who had not. This was an experience that helped her weigh her own options.

Shortly after the conference, Rodda, her husband and their four-year-old son moved to Memphis for her husband’s new job at Phillips Lighting.  Upon discovering that there was no FORCE chapter in Memphis, Rodda decided to start one. In addition, she made the life-changing decision to have a double mastectomy.  In January of 2013, well-known breast specialist, Christine Mroz, MD, performed Rodda’s mastectomy.  It’s been a long recovery period for Rodda, who underwent a slight set-back last Mother’s Day with emergency surgery due to a complication with the reconstruction process.

Rodda says that the choice she made is not for everyone. “Connecting with FORCE does not mean that you’re going to be pushed toward a mastectomy. Surgery is not the best option for everybody. It’s an individual decision.”

Today, Rodda is planning for the future and is much more relaxed in her post-mastectomy world. Her breast cancer risk has dropped from 84 percent to less than five percent. She is passionate about helping other women through the process via the new FORCE chapter in Memphis. Her hope is to provide regular support meetings and help others by email and phone as well.

Director of Genetic Counseling at The West Clinic, Carrie Horton, MS, CGC, recommends FORCE as a resource for her clients and their families.

“Cancer genetic counseling is the process of helping people understand and adapt to the medical, psychological, and family implications of hereditary cancer conditions,” said Horton. “During a genetic counseling appointment, we interpret the family history and provide education on genetic testing and management of inherited conditions.  The goal is to promote informed decision making and advocate for the client’s wishes. We often use groups like FORCE as a resource for clients and their families to feel connected to others in similar situations.”

Regina Nuccio, MS, CGC, a genetic counselor at Baptist Memorial Health Care Corporation, also uses FORCE as a resource. “FORCE invites patients with a hereditary breast cancer syndrome to connect with other men and women going through the same thoughts, feelings, and decision-making processes as they are. FORCE is also a major advocacy group that informs patients about clinical trials, legal issues affecting mutation carriers, local and national events, and even a gallery of post-mastectomy and reconstruction photos submitted by members. While we as healthcare professionals can provide valuable information to patients and their families, there’s nothing like connecting with another person who’s walking through exactly what you are.”


Over one million people in the United States carry the BRCA gene or other hereditary factors that puts them at a high risk of cancer.

The BRCA gene is more prevalent among those with Eastern European (Ashkenazi Jewish) heritage. One out of every 40 Jewish people carries a mutation of the BRCA I or II gene.

Children have a 50 percent chance of inheriting a parent’s high cancer risk.

A blood test that runs about $500 can determine whether the BRCA mutation runs in a family. The cost of the test may be covered in part or in full by insurance.

Women who develop breast cancer before age 50 are more likely to have a BRCA gene mutation than those who develop it after age 50.

How Can You Help?


FORCE Memphis is just getting started so there are many ways to help.  They have a first year goal of raising $5000 to get this chapter going.  Your donations will help make that happen.


In October, the Brighton Collectibles shop at Saddle Creek will help the new FORCE chapter raise money by donating a portion of its sales to FORCE Memphis.


Physicians who have patients who may be at a higher risk of cancer due to family history, should make them aware of BRCA gene mutation testing and the new FORCE chapter in Memphis.


Volunteer your time or professional skills to this new chapter. Contact Irene Rodda at (901) 232-5684 or email:  You can also see Rodda’s blog at

If you know of a local non-profit or charitable organization worthy of being spotlighted in Memphis on the Mend, contact Pamela Harris at