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If you ask Meredith Swinney, she experienced loss of her loved ones too early in life. Her great grandmother passed away from breast cancer before she was born. Her grandfather suffered from Hodgkin’s disease and passed away when she was 6. Her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and died at the age of only 42.
In the fall of 2010, Andrew Swinney asked his daughter to consider being tested for BRCA the gene mutation. He knew there was a family risk and after losing his wife and he wanted to protect his daughter from the same diagnosis. Although Meredith doesn't consider this a "strong" family history of cancer, it was strong enough for her father to introduce her to the Risk Assessment team at Fox Chase Cancer Center where Meredith could be tested. Being a carrier of the mutation puts people at increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
"It seemed we lacked the strong potential to be carriers."
"When he first asked me to get tested for the BRCA gene mutation I agreed without hesitation," recalled Meredith. "We considered the fact that our small family history was a good thing. It seemed we lacked the strong potential to be carriers."
With this in mind, Meredith entered the process with a brave face, telling the story of what brought here to Fox Chase. Her dad sat beside her for support. And then they waited. "As the days went by I got more and more nervous; uncertain of what the results might be and what my future might hold," explained Meredith.
Just as her father had been with her many times in her life, he explained "If you weren’t nervous about what the result might be, then we wouldn’t be sitting here." Before Meredith received her test results, she had mentally prepared herself for the worst case scenario. "I pictured myself in the conference room, holding hands with my dad and my girlfriend, Sheri, two of my strongest supporters." But when she listened to her genetic counselor, Andrea Forman, MS, CGC, deliver the results that she tested positive for BRCA2, her preparations went out the window.
"I listened to everyone talk and felt like I was losing my mom all over again."
"I listened to everyone talk and felt like I was losing my mom all over again," said Meredith, who recalled the crushing and painful realization that she had not only inherited her mother's creativity and looks, but also this scary gene mutation. Angela Bradbury, MD, a medical oncologist who specializes in family risk for cancer, explained what the results meant and provided her options - prevention or treatment.
Meredith walked out of Fox Chase in October 2010 with the weight of the world on her shoulders. She began researching her options - and found she couldn't stop. Finally, after a few weeks of information overload, Sheri suggested that she stop researching and reading. "I was beginning to worry about Meredith," shared Sheri, who thought it was unhealthy for her partner.
Meredith made the decision not to let the BRCA2 gene mutation control her life.
Meredith recalls it was at that moment that she made the decision not to let the BRCA2 gene mutation control her life or define who she is. "I decided to embrace this experience and continue, because even though I have accomplished many goals in my 29 years, there is still too much that I want to do!"
In the fall of 2011, one year later, Meredith gets screened regularly with mammograms and breast MRI. She has learned what it means to be a BRCA2 gene mutation carrier. She admits the process has made her feel empowered that she is in control of her future. Meredith is grateful for the support of her family - her father, her step-mother and her girlfriend - and the trusted guidance of Andrea Forman and Dr. Bradbury at Fox Chase, that she is glad to know that she is a BRCA2 gene mutation carrier.