MILLSTONE — If a parent should ever have to deal with the tough task of telling a young child that the parent has a serious illness, the likely first word out of the child's mouth is predictable: "Why?"

Shannon Pulaski, a mother of twin 7-year-old girls and a 4-year-old boy, is trying to make that conversation easier with a resource-driven blog and a children's book both aimed at helping explain family health histories in a fun, light, simple, and age-appropriate way.

About seven years ago, Pulaski's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and learned she was BRCA-positive, which meant she carried a heightened risk for both ovarian and breast cancers. Pulaski decided to undergo genetic testing and found that she, too, was BRCA-positive.

That diagnosis enabled Pulaski to start being proactive about her health, constantly consulting with doctors. Within a year, Pulaski began advocating for women to practice breast and ovarian health and to identify what's "normal," and to pass that information on.

"There was a need in the community for resources that allowed you to communicate with your children about family health history," she said.

The need Pulaski speaks of is especially amplified this time of year; September was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and this week is Hereditary Cancer Awareness Week.

With all that in mind, Pulaski's book "Mom's Genes" and her new blog, called Proactive Genes, have already proven to be important tools in getting children to understand the reasons for a parent's illness, and how that may even affect them as they grow up.

Proactive Genes features stories from patients, parents, and genetic counselors, and Pulaski said both projects have prompted positive — yet in some ways surprising — responses from parents.

"I think when the parents are engaging with the children in these kinds of conversations, they might step back and think, 'Well, what's my family health history, and maybe I should be asking these questions too,'" she said.

"Mom's Genes" is available now for purchase on Amazon. And for more on Pulaski's mission, visit

Tune in Tuesday night, Oct. 16 at 7 p.m., as New Jersey 101.5 presents a panel discussion on breast cancer as part of its monthly Town Hall Series. Doctors, support group leaders, and survivors will join moderator Eric Scott on-air and online to answer your questions.

Patrick Lavery is Senior Producer of Morning News and Special Programming for New Jersey 101.5, and is lead reporter and substitute anchor for "New Jersey's First News." Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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