Mother’s cancer, clinical trial enable daughter to address BRCA1 mutation
ERICA DI PIERRO
When April Schweigert’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, and then two years later ovarian cancer, her doctors suspected that this was not a coincidence.
“That’s when all the red flags started flying. I remember being in the hospital room and her surgeons were immediately saying, ‘You and your daughter need to be tested for BRCA mutation,’” she says.
April and her mother both tested positive for mutations in BRCA1, which significantly increases a person’s risk for breast and ovarian cancers.
When she received her results, April absorbed all the information she could on BRCA-positive cancers and devised a strategy on how to proceed.
“I’m a researcher and a planner, and fortunately because of my mom, I had the ability to take preventive action,” April notes.
Making a plan at MD Anderson to address a BRCA1 mutation
Through her planning, one thing became clear: April was not ready to undergo surgical menopause, which involves removal of both ovaries. Uncomfortable with the answers she was getting from doctors in her area, she felt compelled to seek help elsewhere.
That’s when she found MD Anderson’sGynecologic Oncology Center, which offered a unique clinical trial opportunity. The Women Choosing Surgical Prevention (WISP) study, led by Karen Lu, M.D., seeks to understand the impact of delayed ovary removal on quality-of-life and sexual function. This trial was a major factor in April’s decision to come to MD Anderson.
“I have a daughter and two sons and if I can give back by helping with this research, maybe there will be better answers for my children and others,” she says.
April made the trek from her home in Florida for her first appointment in March 2016, and underwent surgery to have both her fallopian tubes and one ovary removed three months later. This allowed her to delay surgical menopause but still reduce her ovarian cancer risk. About six months after this surgery, April had a double mastectomy and reconstruction from which she recovered in a couple of months. She plans to have her second ovary removed by the time she turns 40.
The blessing of being able to take control
These days, April is feeling back to her normal self and able to keep up with her kids’ busy lives filled with sports and other activities. They regularly go to the beach as a family. April reflects on these moments with a deep sense of gratitude for the knowledge that allowed her to take control of her own health after her mother’s cancer journey.
“It’s a blessing that I’ve found out about this. My mom has given me this gift to take preventive action, and I have to do the best that I can with that,” she says.
For others who find themselves in the same situation, April suggests arming yourself with as much knowledge as possible and not being afraid to ask questions. “This will help you feel empowered and confident in advocating for yourself as a patient and fighting for what you want,” she says. April also stresses the importance of getting a second opinion and finding a doctor that you trust.
“I had that feeling of trust and knew I was receiving the best care possible as soon as I walked through the doors at MD Anderson. Every question that I had was answered right off the bat, and the doctors and nurses were so knowledgeable,” April says. “I felt that this was where I needed to be.”