Twin sisters who overcame breast cancer on mission to save lives

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by JOHN SHARIFY / KING 5 News

Bio | Email | Follow: @JohnSharify

KING5.com

Posted on June 6, 2012 at 11:48 AM

"I love life," said Kim Laverello.

What's not to love when you've been handed a gift, a second chance at life. That's how the Seattle artist and her twin sister, Stephanie, see it.

Spend just five minutes with the 43-year-old twins from Seattle, and you'll notice they often finish each other’s sentences. Spend a little more time, and you'll learn what happens to one of them also happens to the other.

"Colds. She gets sick. I get sick," said Kim.

"That's true," said Stephanie.

"Yep. She got a Russian boyfriend. I got a Russian boyfriend," said Kim.

Good things and bad happen to them. Stephanie got breast cancer in 2005. Kim got breast cancer a year later. The sisters wanted to know why. Why them? Is it something in their genes? And they learned it is.

"We both have a gene mutation BRCA 1," said Kim. "How fortunate I was to have found out about the cancer gene and to have the ability to make decisions to save my life."

The twins decided to get double mastectomies and hysterectomies to increase their chances of survival. They also decided to get tattoos to cover the scars from the reconstructive surgery.

"I'm sharing my story to help others," said Kim. 

Stephanie felt the same way. The twins needed to tell family members right away so they can get tested too for this gene mutation.  One problem: "We were adopted," said Kim.

The twins have no idea who their biological mother is.

"Did she have what I now have? Is she still alive?" asked Stephanie.

They knew nothing about their biological family, and the records were sealed. That's when the Hereditary Cancer Clinic Director from Swedish Medical Center offered to help. Robert Testa wrote a letter to the judge in Florida where the twins were adopted.

 "I said to the judge that this information is important to the medical care of her biological family," said Resta.

He went on to ask the judge to open up the records. And they did.

A week later, the twins received a letter saying their mother had died in 2003, and that their mom had a daughter named Laura. The twins knew what they needed to do next. They had to find Laura and warn her and tell her to get tested for the gene mutation BRCA 1.

The twins had no idea where their half sister and mom lived. It was a safe bet it was far away. After all they were given up for adoption in Florida. They grew up in New Hampshire. They then headed West to California and ended up in Washington state. So imagine their surprise when they found out the following.

 "We're looking at the letter and we're like OMG. She died in Enumclaw," said Kim.

"45 minutes from where we were living," added Stephanie.

"I could have passed her on the street," said Kim.

The twins tracked down their half sister, Laura, and encouraged her to get the genetic test for BRCA 1.

"In November of 2011 I got tested and found out I was positive," said Laura Jajo, now 38 years old.

Now Laura will have to consider her options and decide if she will get the preventative treatment her half twin sisters received. Currently she has no health insurance and can't afford any preventative surgeries without it.  I pointed out to Kim Lavarello that she was potentially saving her half-sister's life.

"That's exactly what's happening. And I want others to get tested too,” said Kim.
 
After all it could be a matter of life and death.

A Facebook page has been set up by the sisters to help women who want more information about BRCA 1. Go to www.facebook.com/brca1twins/info
 

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