No woman expects to be diagnosed with cancer at the age of 20. But, when Melissa’s pelvic pain refused to go away, she couldn’t write it off as a painful period or intense ovulation any longer. She knew her body, and something wasn’t right. The vague discomfort in her pelvis, the odd pain at the end of urination…all strange symptoms that just didn’t make sense.
Blood work (CA125), ultrasounds, and finally a biopsy confirmed what Melissa had feared; She had ovarian cancer. Yes, the tumor was considered one of the most favorable types of ovarian cancer, but just the word “cancer” left her stunned. Moments before she had been a typical college student. Now, she was scheduling surgery to have her right ovary and half of her left ovary removed. The oncologist’s description of worst-case scenarios swirled in her head. Chemotherapy? Part of the tumor was attached to her colon. Without chemotherapy the cancer could potentially spread to her gut. What option did she really have?
Battling cancer once is enough for anyone, but one year after her daughter was born Melissa was diagnosed with a recurrence of ovarian cancer. Although the remainder of her left ovary was removed, making her cancer free, Melissa’s mother and aunt were diagnosed with breast cancer. Was this just a coincidence or was something else going on? With such a strong family history, she decided that it was time to meet with a genetic counselor. Melissa felt obligated, not just for her own sake but for that of her sister and her daughter to know if a genetic mutation such as a BRCA 1 or 2 (which can increase the risk for breast and ovarian cancer) ran in her family. If she tested positive she could potentially prevent breast cancer in her own future with a bilateral mastectomy; and, with increased screening and preventative steps her sister and daughter could potentially be spared the cancer diagnosis that she had received at the age of 20. Whatever she needed to do to stay healthy, to continue being a mom, and to protect her family…that was what she would do.
Becoming a mom in the first place had been hard enough. Even though she was no longer a cancer patient, cancer had forced her into the role of infertility patient. With only ½ of one ovary, low estradiol levels, and high FSH and LH levels, Melissa was told that she could not get pregnant on her own. Donor eggs and In Vitro Fertilization were her only options for getting pregnant. Her sister had volunteered to donate eggs without hesitation, and the embryo transfer was a success! As a mom, Melissa felt an even stronger urge to get genetic testing. She wanted to make knowledgeable decisions. She wanted all of the information. She wanted peace of mind. The benefits of knowing her body even down to the smallest genetic mutation could guide her decision-making, her sister’s and her daughter’s.
Knowing is power. Knowing is prevention. Knowing is possibly life saving. Do you know your risks? If you are a woman with a personal or strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer it may be time to KNOW more about your genetic risks for cancer. By getting tested for gene mutations such as BRCA, you can take your health into your own hands. Be your best advocate, and let Bright Pink’s amazing resources guide you in your journey toward health. Take this Assess Your Risk quiz by clicking on this hyperlink to see if you would be a good candidate for genetic screening. This tool is a great resource for all women. Not only does it assess your genetic risks, it also looks at how your lifestyle choices may be impacting your breast and ovarian health. Could some simple lifestyle changes prevent you from developing breast or ovarian cancer? Take the Bright Pink Assessment to learn more.
Melissa took the necessary steps to know her risks, including her genetic risks. She now has peace of mind knowing that her genetic testing came back normal. Do you have peace of mind? Even if you were to test positive for a genetic mutation, you too could find peace of mind knowing that preventative options for breast and ovarian cancer do exist for you and others in your family. Ignorance is never bliss, but a cancer free future can be!