Ann Anderson and Annabella and Kristin Rodewald
A Denver grandmother shares the importance of genetic testing in saving the lives of her own children and grandchildren.
Ann Anderson is grateful for her life. Diagnosed with ovarian cancer when she was 68, she admits, “I was very lucky that I was in really good physical shape when all this happened.”
The Denver mother of three didn’t know the symptoms and risk factors of ovarian cancer, but she did realize she was experiencing a need to urinate frequently. Her sister, a nurse, also noticed and mentioned it while they were together on a trip. Already overdue for a checkup, Anderson went to her gynecologist after feeling a lump on one side of her abdomen.
The results of Anderson’s CA 125 blood test, used to determine levels of a tumor marker that may be elevated in cases of ovarian cancer, confirmed that Anderson was one of the 20,000 Americans diagnosed annually with the deadliest gynecologic cancer and the fifth most common cancer in females in the United States. Her surgery the following day included a hysterectomy and removal of the growth. After 10 days in the hospital and a month of recovery, Anderson began a year-long chemotherapy regimen.
Through genetic testing, Anderson learned that she carries the BRCA2 gene, which increases the risk of female breast and ovarian cancers greatly. Her sister does not carry the gene. Similarly, one of her daughters inherited the BRCA2 gene and the other didn’t.
Referring to her daughter who tested BRCA2 positive, Anderson said, “She has been given a gift of knowledge. “She believes this will enable her child to take action to reduce the likelihood of someday being diagnosed with ovarian, breast or other cancers. Her daughter will also be more likely to consider genetic testing sometime in the future for Anderson’s young granddaughter. “Preventative measures or early diagnosis are powerful weapons against cancer.” Anderson said.
A new study from the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health reports that among the nearly 4 million American women who have had ovarian or breast cancer, at least 1.5 million have a high risk of carrying genetic mutations that could increase their probability for additional cancers in the future. However, even though simple tests can identify these mutations and enable women to be better informed when making decisions about surgery, cancer therapy and steps to reduce the risk of future cancers, fewer than 20 percent have undergone the procedure, or even discussed it with their doctor.
During her treatment at the Rocky Mountain Cancer Center, Anderson learned about the Colorado Ovarian Cancer Alliance. The mission of the Denver-based nonprofit, colo-ovariancancer.org, is to promote awareness and early detection of ovarian cancer through advocacy and education, while providing support to people affected by ovarian cancer.
Since then, Anderson has volunteered at health fairs and never leaves home without some of the “symptom cards,” which look like business cards but are used to educate women about the symptoms of ovarian cancer. These small but important aids highlight the disease’s risk factors and symptoms, which include pelvic or abdominal pain, suddenly-occurring or persistent bloating, difficulty eating or feeling full quickly, and urinary urgency or frequency.
After surviving for nearly two and a half years, Anderson is optimistic that knowledge about ovarian cancer is coming to the forefront. For those who are diagnosed with and treated for ovarian cancer, Anderson advises, “Don’t be hard on yourself and don’t dwell on the past. Reconcile yourself to the fact that you are lucky. Be grateful and happy with what you can do today.”
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