Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Changing family history of ovarian cancer

Mom and Heather, September 2013
One of the ways you are supposed to determine your risk of ovarian cancer is to look at your family history. As of 2008, we had no history of ovarian cancer in our family.

Then my mom was diagnosed in 2009. So my history was changed.

My cousin Heather (relation on maternal side of the family; mom's brother Larry's daughter) was the first one of our/my generation to be diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She is only 42 years old.

And unfortunately, after a short break off of chemo, Heather is going back on again after her scan yesterday showed lesions on her liver, spleen and abdominal wall. And as of yesterday she was having to make some quick decisions about what course of treatment to take - Carboplatin, Avastin with either Taxol or Gemzar.

Mom's oncologist Dr. Porubcin suggested Gemzar but decided to put her on Doxil instead... and the Doxil has worked quite well for the last three years. The side effects have been minimal compared to Carbo/Taxol mix mom had when she was first diagnosed in 2009. She was very fortunate that her cancer did not make it to the tumor level. Small "fibers" of the cancer had attached itself onto the omentum and some lymph nodes in addition to mom's ovaries. The surgeon who performed the oophorectomy/hysterectomy said he had removed most of it and felt that she would have a good survival rate.

When Heather was diagnosed in 2013, she had a tumor the size of an orange on her ovary and was Stage III. With no family history of cancer how was Heather to even know what was going on in her body? It's the same ovarian cancer story you hear over and over again about the sneaky and subtle the symptoms of the disease.

I am coming to the conclusion that there is too much cancer in this family. So now we go from No-Family-History-of-Cancer to Family-History-of-Cancer and I try not to worry about how much that change in history is going to affect me or generations after me. I am somewhat relieved that I had a son and no daughters... but if and when my son has children, a daughter, some day... how will she be affected?

That is why we need an early detection method for ovarian cancer now. Cures and preventative measures are great, but if we had an early detection method, then ovarian cancer would be just as treatable as cervical cancer and breast cancer.

I don't know how to get there (early detection) except keep sharing my mom's story (and Heather's too) so that women will understand that cancer can happen to them too, regardless of family history. And keep advocating for an early detection method.

In the meantime - please keep my mom and Heather in your prayers.

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