Annie Parker was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1951. When she was only 14 years old, she lost her mother to cancer. Twelve years later, her beloved sister, Joan, also died from the same disease.
Annie’s doctors told her it was “just bad luck”. She didn’t believe them. Annie became convinced that there had to be a genetic link for certain types of cancer. This belief also meant that she was convinced that she, too, would get cancer.
She did. In 1980, she developed breast cancer, had a mastectomy and survived. Her marriage didn’t, and Annie discovered that her best friend and her husband were having an affair.
In 1988, she was diagnosed with Stage 3 ovarian cancer. She had more surgery, followed by chemotherapy. She survived.
The doctors still wouldn’t confirm that cancer could be hereditary and that there could be a genetic link for certain types of cancer.
Meanwhile, Dr Mary-Claire King, a geneticist at the University of California, Berkeley, was researching the genetic roots of the disease, and discovered the gene that is responsible for many breast and ovarian cancers: BRCA1. Her discovery was revolutionary, and we now know that as many as 5 to 10% of all breast cancers may be hereditary.
In 1994, Annie Parker became one of the first women in Canada to be tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Her results were positive for the deadly gene.
Annie developed cancer again in 2006 and underwent another operation, followed by more chemotherapy. She survived. Annie’s story, and that of Dr Mary-Claire King, inspired Hollywood film maker Steve Bernstein to write and direct Decoding Annie Parker, a multi-award winning film starring Samantha Morton, Helen Hunt and Aaron Paul.
Annie’s inspirational autobiography is the story of cancer, family and survival.