The Compass Spring 2024 | Page 6

Couple ’ s donation opens doors for underserved

Myra and Darwin Smiths ’ generous gift will help expand access to genetic counseling and community health worker programs .

yra Smith began her breast cancer journey by following the Stars . She got the diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer on January 2 , 2019 , and learned , thankfully , that it was caught in its early stages . Before she began treatment , she and her husband , Darwin , wanted to do something “ wild and crazy ,” but they weren ’ t sure what .
The Smiths found their answer when they checked the Dallas Stars schedule and saw the hockey team would be playing the Winnipeg Jets in just a few days . Myra and Darwin booked their tickets and hightailed it to Canada . “ Darwin said , ‘ We ’ re going to have fun . We ’ re going to make snow angels .’ And we did ,” Myra recalled .
This January , Myra hit the five-year anniversary of her cancer diagnosis . Again , Darwin suggested they do something wild and crazy . Instead of another trip , Myra said , “ I want my cancer-free celebration to be paying my good fortune forward .”
Paying it forward came in the form of two gifts to Baylor Scott & White Dallas Foundation : one to support genetic counseling , and the other supporting the community health worker program .
“ The Smiths ’ gift will allow Baylor Scott & White to reduce barriers for our underserved patients so they can receive

Genetics had a big impact on Myra ’ s life and journey . She and Darwin have such giving hearts — they really want just to help others as much as possible .
— Chelsey Brister

” the care and resources needed to live well , and it will expand genetic testing and counseling for families facing a cancer diagnosis today , and in the

future ,” said Christina Goodman , vice president of development for the Baylor Scott & White Dallas Foundation . “ Their commitment to giving back remains an inspiration to our team and so many others who are impacted by their generosity .”
Knowing her roots
One of Myra ’ s favorite shows is Finding Your Roots , a documentary TV series where the host explores the genealogy and family history of celebrity guests .
Myra is well versed in her own family ’ s history . Her ancestors are of Ashkenazi Jewish descent , a population known for having a higher prevalence of certain genetic diseases , including hereditary breast cancer .
When she was diagnosed with breast cancer , Myra shared her family history with her surgeon , Carolyn Thomas , MD , and oncologist , Joyce O ’ Shaughnessy , MD . Because of Myra ’ s family history , her physicians referred her to genetic counseling at Baylor Scott & White .
Two weeks after her diagnosis , the genetic counseling team shared the results of her genetic tests , which showed she has a rare genetic variant of the FANC-C gene .
“ When somebody tests positive for a hereditary predisposition to breast cancer , usually it ’ s a mutation of a BRCA gene ,” said Chelsey Brister , a certified genetic counselor at Baylor Scott & White and supervisor of the genetic counseling program . “ But we have found that there are many other genes associated with hereditary breast cancer that we can test patients for now . The FANC-C gene is one we ’ re still learning about .”
Researchers do know that having a certain variant of this gene elevates one ’ s risk of breast and pancreatic cancer , which is the third-leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States . It ’ s difficult to recognize the symptoms of pancreatic cancer in the early stages , and once the cancer spreads , survival rates are low .
Because of this , Myra received another referral , this time to the Familial Pancreatic Cancer Risk Assessment Program at Baylor Scott & White Charles A . Sammons Cancer Center , where she receives annual MRIs to proactively screen for the disease . “ If something flags on any of these yearly visits , we can catch it earlier ,” Chelsey said .
A major benefit of genetic testing is that it equips the patient and their family members with information to make moreinformed decisions about their health . “ Many patients come in because of their family history . They want to be proactive because they watched their family members go through a cancer diagnosis and want to try to prevent that from happening ,” Chelsey said .
In 2023 , the four-person genetic counseling team at Baylor University Medical