breast and ovarian cancer, Cook For Your Life

At High Risk For Ovarian & Breast Cancer: One Woman’s Story

by Betsy Coy Bright Pink on September 12, 2016

There is a lot of cancer in my family.  A lot.  I have spent most of my life thinking that I would die of cancer.  Four years ago, I received genetic counseling and genetic testing, which confirmed what I had always suspected.  I am at a higher risk of having cancer than the general population.  Not just a little higher, either. The BRCA1 gene mutation that runs in my family made my lifetime risk of breast cancer up to 87% and my lifetime risk of ovarian cancer up to 50%.  At the time, I was 35 years old, married, with two kids – ages 6 and 5. These percentages were earth shattering to me.  It wasn’t if I would have cancer, it was when.

I was given some materials to help sort through my options.  I could do increased screening for both breast and ovarian cancer, including ultrasounds, mammograms and MRI’s.  My alternative choice was to have prophylactic surgeries.  After many doctors’ appointments and conversations, I chose to have a prophylactic double mastectomy and reconstruction.

My friends and family had mixed reactions.  “Wasn’t I worried about losing my breasts?”  “Why would I make such a radical decision?”  The truth was, the only thing I was worried about was staying alive for my family.  I have since also had a prophylactic oophorectomy to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes.  My risk has been lowered to 1-2% for both breast and ovarian cancer.  I breathe a little easier every day and consider myself so fortunate to have had access to the medical knowledge and technology that others in my family didn’t have.  I am certain that having this knowledge and making the choice to have these surgeries has saved my life – literally.

Around the time of my surgeries, I started paying attention to the type of foods I was eating and feeding my family.  I have read so many articles on processed foods and increased hormones in food.  I started thinking:  “Why would I go through all of these preventative surgeries just to ingest something that might increase my risk?” Taking care of yourself is important.  It becomes even more important when you are at a higher risk for developing cancer.  Eating healthily and working out have become part of what we do in my family every day.  I want to feel like I have done as much as I possibly can to keep me alive and well for my family, and to keep them healthy as well.  I plan on being around to celebrate many more anniversaries with my husband and birthdays with my children.

Having the genetic testing and knowing that I have this BRCA gene mutation was and is not always easy. Luckily, on my journey I found an amazing organization called Bright Pink. Bright Pink is the only national non-profit organization focusing on the risk reduction and early detection of breast and ovarian cancer in young women, while providing support for high-risk individuals.  It is an amazing organization that offered me support through my surgeries and still provides me with a group of women who understand my situation. I serve as an education ambassador for Bright Pink in Cleveland to help provide local educational and support programs.

Bright Pink isn’t only for women at high risk. It is an organization that strives to educate all young women to be proactive, talk with their families and their doctors and most of all – take control of their breast and ovarian health. I’m hoping that when you read this, you will take a minute and take control of YOUR breast and ovarian health. Talk with your parents about your family history. Text PINK to 59227 to receive monthly reminders to do your breast self-exam. Know the symptoms of ovarian cancer. Have real conversations with your doctors.

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