Before surgery

Doctor Beth Karlan (left) says, "Your dad is with us, from above," to Anna Gorman in the pre-op before her hysterectomy/ oophorectomy. (Anne Cusack / Los Angeles Times / November 1, 2006)

My dad did everything he could to look his best that morning. He shaved, brushed his hair and changed into a clean shirt.

I stepped into his room, where he lay on his bed, propped up with pillows. His face was pale and his eyelids heavy; an oxygen tube hung around his neck.

I sat down beside him and handed him my daughter, who was just 4 days old.

This was their first meeting. He looked down at her and softly touched her hair, then looked me in the eye.

"Anna," he said in a hoarse whisper, "now the race is on for you."

LIVE CHAT: Anna Gorman will discuss her journey with BRCA1 at noon

My father, Ira Gorman, and I were alike in so many ways. We had the same broad smile, the same freckles across our noses, the same competitive nature. We shared a love of dancing and a love of words.

We also shared a genetic mutation, BRCA1, that dramatically increases the risk of certain types of cancer.

My father had watched cancer kill his mother, aunt and sister. Now, at age 58, it was killing him too.

It was in his pancreas and had metastasized. He was home now, in the final days of 2004, with a morphine drip and hospice nurses. He had just weeks to live.

Still, he was worried for me. Ever since I found out I had the mutation in 2002, he had been pushing me to have my ovaries removed. Since getting sick, he had become more insistent.

The BRCA1 mutation, primarily found among Ashkenazi Jews, raises my risk of ovarian cancer as high as 54% and breast cancer up to 81%. The surgery would cut my chances of ovarian cancer to virtually nothing. And as long as I had the operation by the time I turned 35, it would reduce my risk of breast cancer by half. I was 30.

My father thought I was playing Russian roulette with my life. Now that I had a baby, he believed there was no reason to wait.

I felt terrified for myself as well, as though cancer were this venomous snake waiting to strike. My aunt Lois was just 34, a few years older than I, when she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She died at 38.

I wanted to tell my father what he wanted to hear. How could I deny him his last wish for me?

But I wasn't ready. I wanted another baby, a sibling for my daughter. Over and over, I apologized. I begged him to trust me.

Soon, I told him. Not yet, but soon.

CANCER was on my dad's side of the family, but my mom was the one following the medical research. In 1996, when genetic testing became available for the BRCA mutation, she urged my sister and me to get checked.

I kept putting it off. But my mom didn't let up, and in 2002, I decided to go ahead.

Even then, I felt oddly disconnected from what I was doing. My mind was on other things. I had just moved from Ventura to Los Angeles with my boyfriend, Coll Metcalfe, after being hired at The Times.