December 07, 2018
Breast cancer survivor: Don’t dismiss your father’s side when looking at family history
BY Kelly Agent
Some people think you can only get breast cancer from your mother’s side of the family. But that’s a myth. Breast cancer can come just as easily from your father’s side.
Want proof? The genetic mutation that led to my own stage III breast cancer diagnosis last summer came from my dad. Genetic testing confirmed it.
And once we started digging into his family history, we discovered that breast cancer was everywhere. In fact, I’d always been told that his mother, who’d passed away before I was born, died of stomach cancer. Now, we believe she either had breast cancer or ovarian cancer, and it spread to her stomach.
My triple-negative breast cancer diagnosis
My own breast cancer diagnosis came as a pretty big surprise. It was June 2017, and I’d been feeling great. I’d just had my annual well-woman exam, but since I wasn’t quite 40 at the time, I hadn’t scheduled my first mammogram yet.
A week or so later, I felt a large lump in my left armpit while taking a shower. It hadn’t been there when I’d seen my gynecologist, so I called him. He told me to come back in and we’d do the mammogram a few months early. Before I’d even left my doctor’s office, the radiologist said I needed an ultrasound.
It turned out I had cancer in my left breast, and it had already spread to a nearby lymph node. But the original tumor was still so small, no one could feel it. So, that lymph node probably saved my life.
Why I chose MD Anderson for my breast cancer treatment
My husband and I had moved to Houston just nine months prior to my diagnosis, but I knew exactly where I wanted to go for breast cancer treatment. My dad had traveled to MD Anderson from Mississippi for prostate cancer treatment a decade earlier, and I knew it offered cutting-edge options. I called and had my first appointment within five days.
At MD Anderson, I met with Dr. Abenaa Brewster, who determined that my breast cancer was triple-negative. That means it lacks all three of the receptor types most breast cancers have, making it harder to treat. I also tested positive for the BRCA1 genetic mutation.
Because of that, Dr. Brewster recommended I consider joining a clinical trial under Dr. Jennifer Litton. She’s studying a PARP inhibitor called talazoparib through MD Anderson’s Breast Cancer Moon Shot™. A PARP inhibitor is a type of targeted therapy that has shown great promise in treating my particular type of breast cancer.
Why I participated in a clinical trial
I’d already done a little research of my own and was hoping to be offered a clinical trial. So, when Dr. Brewster approached me and said I qualified to participate in this one, I was thrilled.
I went on the PARP inhibitor for six months, taking four pills a day. And by the time I had my first ultrasound 30 days into through my treatment, the lymph node under my left arm had shrunk to less than half its original size. It was 88% smaller than it had been.
By the time I had a double mastectomy in January 2018, the tiny tumor in my left breast had all but disappeared. And of the 32 lymph nodes removed from that side of my body, only the one I’d originally felt in the shower showed any evidence of disease, and that was microscopic.
Thrilled by my legacy of helping others
Technically, I’ve been cancer-free since my surgery. But to make sure, I had five months of chemotherapy followed by six weeks of radiation therapy after my double mastectomy. I rang the bell to mark the end of my treatment on Oct. 1, 2018.
After everything I’ve been through, I’m thankful just to be alive and healthy. But I’m elated to see what this cutting-edge drug has done for me and —now that it’s been approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration — what it’s going to do for other people.
Request an appointment at MD Anderson online or by calling 1-877-632-6789.
TopicsGenetics Testing and Counseling Triple-Negative Breast Cancer Family History Breast Cancer Targeted Therapy Moon Shots Program
I’m thankful just to be alive and healthy.