Having worked as a licensed genetic counselor at CHI Saint Joseph Health – Cancer Care since 2015, Elizabeth Hays, MS, CGC, has always loved science, but she wasn’t sure where the interest would take her until a sibling shared an experience.
“My older sister had prenatal genetic counseling after getting married,” Hays said. “She told me about the appointment and that she saw me doing it as a career. I started looking into it and shadowing other providers. That led me to where I am today.”
Hays enjoys her in-depth appointments with patients to make sure they understand their diagnosis or hereditary risk for disease.
“Genetic testing can guide a patient’s decisions about treatment,” Hays said, noting how genetic testing costs are more affordable today. “If test results show a breast cancer patient has increased risk of developing another breast cancer in the future, she may wish to have a bilateral mastectomy instead of lumpectomy. It’s rewarding to help patients get the best care the first time.”
Extending Care Across the Community
Family is the focus of Hays’ career and what drives her outside of her job. In addition to spending time in a community garden that grows free produce and flowers for people in need where she lives, Hays volunteers for Habitat for Humanity,® an organization that is dear to her heart. Growing up, Hays and her parents and four siblings spent their free time volunteering to build affordable housing for residents in Berea.
“It was my mom’s favorite organization,” Hays said. “When she passed, we wanted to donate to Habitat in her honor. But my dad took it a step further. He said ‘Why don’t we sponsor a house ourselves?’”
Local affiliates with the organization explained this had never been done before in Madison County. They relied on corporate partnerships, donors and grants. But they agreed to let Hays and her family join in sponsoring a home. Hays secured some funding for the project through CHI Saint Joseph Health and its community relations efforts.
Perseverance Makes a Difference
COVID-19 and poor weather posed challenges to the build. Volunteers weren’t allowed to assist with building the house, and a contractor was hired to finish it on time. However, Hays and her family were humbled by the support of others.
“I have 12 nieces and nephews across Cincinnati, Ohio and North Carolina who raised money in their neighborhoods for the project,” Hays said. “We’ve received notes and donations from more than 200 individuals. Everyone wanted to share a small piece in my mom’s memory. Family was important to my mom. She knew the value of having a home base and foundation.”
The experience taught Hays that anything is possible if you are willing to try, a philosophy she adopted from her mother, who was one of 17 children.
“You can do a lot more than you think you can,” she said. “That’s how I approach my patients as well.”
For more information about our genetic testing services, visit CHISaintJosephHealth.org/lexington‑genetic‑cancer‑counseling‑and‑testing.