Monday, November 18, 2013

Happy Birthday, Mom!

Today would have been my Mom's and Aunt Phyllis' 82nd birthdays.  This picture is from my birthday back in June of 2007, the last photo of us together.  Little did we know that two months later, my Mom would die at age 75 after complications from a simple hernia repair surgery.

Arlene Gleichsner was a SURVIVOR!  She survived breast cancer twice - 25 years apart.  She survived ovarian cancer - having two years of monthly chemo treatments to beat the disease.  She survived diabetes.  She survived a hip replacement.  She is my hero.

Phyllis Lanham was her twin sister.  Unfortunately, she also got ovarian cancer and did not survive.  She was only 70 when she died.  She was like a second mother to me - she is my hero too.

They are not the only ones in my family who have battled female cancers - cousins on my Mom's side, and my only Aunt on my Dad's side have fought the breast cancer battle.   The males in my family have seen both pancreatic and prostate cancers.

Recently my gynecologist suggested genetic counseling.  I had been given that suggestion by my doctors in Kentucky too, but I didn't know if I was ready to deal with the knowledge I might gain.

Genetic counseling involves someone looking at your family history and deciding if you are at high risk for developing cancer.  If you fall into the high risk category, a blood test can determine if you have a genetic mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.

Everyone carries the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.  They are called "tumor suppressor genes" because they make proteins that help prevent the cells from forming tumors. If one of these genes is changed through a mutation, the protein may not do its job, making it easier for a tumor to develop.

If you have a mutation in either the BRCA1 or 2 gene, your lifetime risk for getting cancer is higher than the general population - breast cancer risk goes to 87%.  Also, you have a higher risk for getting ovarian cancer and pancreatic cancer.

So, I had the blood work done.  And then a two week wait to get the results.  Last week, I found out that I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation.

I'm a PREVIVOR (lucky me)!

What is a Previvor?  A previvor is a survivor of a predisposition (or increased risk) for cancer.

There is good news - I don't have cancer.

There is bad news - If I do nothing, there is a very good chance I will get cancer.  Several years ago I took care of the risk for ovarian cancer.  But now there is the breast cancer issue.

I began researching and found that there are many women in this situation - women of all ages deciding how to deal with this knowledge.  I've found a few support groups on Facebook.

There are two options when faced with being a Previvor.

1.  You increase your screenings (every six months), and pray that you don't get cancer.

2.  You have a BPM - bilateral prophylactic mastectomy

Wow, try to wrap your brain around those choices! 

Here is the problem with the first option.  I feel like a ticking time bomb.  Will I get cancer?  A person who tests positive for a gene mutation doesn't automatically get cancer.  And the 87% lifetime risk goes down the older you get.  Since I'm 56 and have never had breast cancer, my risk is still high, but not at 87%.  Factor in my family history, and this "waiting" option scares me.

Here is the problem with the second option.  Major surgery with major reconstruction.  The reconstruction options are not like getting a boob job.  There is a long recovery and lengthy process for reconstruction which involves several operations.  And then there is the risk of infection and complications.  This option scares me too.

But I'm lucky.  I know now.  I can make a decision without the decision being forced on me because I have cancer.  Getting cancer scares me more than any of the above choices!  I've seen two women fight it.  It is not pretty.

So, why do I want to share this very private information?  Knowledge is power, and I hope that my journey will encourage others to do what they need to do to stay healthy.  So many women put off their yearly mammograms and doctor visits.  It might not be the most fun thing to do once a year, but you are worth it.  Your family is worth it.  Not getting cancer is worth it.

I've read blogs where women document their experiences.  Their writings have helped me in making a decision.  Had they not shared, I would feel alone in this journey.

Have I made my final decision yet?  I'm on my way to making it.  I have a consult in a couple of weeks with a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic breast center.  I'll find out all the options that right now scare me.  I'm lucky that I live in Phoenix where the Mayo clinic and hospital is located.  I'm lucky that we have health insurance.  I'm lucky I don't have cancer.

I'm thankful that I took the step to find out.  I'm a previvor!  For more information on how you can become empowered, check out the FORCE website.


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  2. Laura, as a BC survivor with two daughters, I have lots of thoughts on this issue. I did get the genetic testing, and mine was not the BRAC gene. Good for my girls, kinda bad for me, cause I just want to know why!
    But,I know you will make the right decision for you. I would have to say having had lots of surgeries, that I did not think they amounted to much, compared to cancer. Of course, I also did not say I was sick while I had cancer.
    An ounce of prevention . . . my girls have both had the gardisil shot - just to help prevent future cancers. I think anything we can do to prevent the ravages of cancer is a good thing.
    Know you will have support and love no matter what, and now you know, which is certainly a good thing!!!

  3. Wow, Laura! You may have saved a life today. Knowledge IS power! Your informative blog is a great way to honor Arlene and Phyllis on their birthday.

    (Nancy Z. ...Sorry my comment was accidentally deleted earlier.)

  4. Laura out west; always remember you are never alone; your friends and family members are here to help you along the way; regardless of which way your decision goes....and I don't want to sound all...mystic; religious; or any number of adjectives I can toss in here; and don't think me INSANE when I say this....ask your mom and aunt to lead you to the correct decision; they will...and you can rest better for it....hugs from laura back east ~~~~~~~

  5. No matter what you decide you are known too all of us as a strong, brave, selfless woman who will do what is right for herself and help others along the way. Thank you for that my friend and we're all here for you to lean on, should you need it.

  6. What an amazing, intelligent, insightful person you are! Not to mention courageous. You are providing a voice to all the women to scared to speak, understand, find out on their own, or know where to turn. No matter what your decision is, the fact that you are sharing your thoughts on this very difficult is touching lives and saving live. Your mom and Aunt Foo Foo are cheering you on!

  7. Hi Laura,
    wow, I had no idea you're just near me in age-I turned 55 this week. You are my inspiration and hero!
    Can I also suggest acupuncture? I know it may sound silly, but it's saved me so many times, from depression, and when I started to have panic attacks. Eastern medicine looks on everything so differently, and I have always found it to be so helpful with things Western Medicine doesn't see the same way.
    No matter what you chose to do, in the words of Ruffy 'trust that miracles do occur' and know we have your back here. We have your back and man, you just blow me away with your courage and facing things head on!

    (((hugs)))) Laura


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