In 1965, when Annie Parker was 14, she lost her mother to breast cancer. Both her older sister and first cousin also went on to die from breast cancer. Annie worried that she might develop cancer herself, but was assured that it was only a fluke that three family members had died of the same cancer and that she had nothing to fear.
In 1980, at age 29, Annie was diagnosed with breast cancer and received a radical mastectomy. Nine years later, she was told she had third-stage ovarian cancer. To Annie, this pattern was more than just a fluke and she believed that there was a gene that carried the disease from generation to generation, but to others, it was just an eerie coincidence. Annie became obsessed about proving her theory that the cause of her cancer lay in family genetics.
In 1990, geneticist Dr. Mary-Claire King made a major discovery. Despite scientists around the world disputing the theory, Dr. King set out to prove that there was a chance breast cancer was hereditary. After almost 16 years of research, Dr. King discovered the BRCA1 gene, the mutation that was responsible for many breast and ovarian cancers. She also discovered that 5 to 10 per cent of all breast cancers could be hereditary. Because of her findings, tests were created and distributed to find out if someone was carrying the mutation.
Annie Parker was one of the first Canadians to be tested and found positive for Dr. King’s discovery of the BRCA1 mutation. Through Dr. King’s discoveries, Annie Parker found the hope to continue fighting and to survive the deadly disease that took the lives of three of her family members.
In 2006, Annie Parker was once again diagnosed with cancer, this time with a tumor behind the liver. Once again she refused to be beaten by the disease.
Currently, Annie is living cancer-free with her second husband Michael Warby. Her first husband passed away from colon cancer. Annie is also a strong advocate for genetic testing and believes those who have family members with breast cancer should get tested.
Originally Annie wanted to write a novel that would be available in doctors’ offices to raise awareness of the BRCA1 gene, but as fortune would have it, she was put in contact with a producer who turned her manuscript into a feature film titled Decoding Annie Parker, which has won awards at the Hamptons International Film Festival and the Seattle International Film Festival.