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Plastic and Reconstructive Surgery Patient Stories, Risk Assessment Program Breast Cancer Patient Stories, Breast Cancer Patient Stories, Risk Assessment Program Patient Stories
Breast Cancer; Family Risk Assessment Program Participant
Jane Tervooren knows all too well how precious life can be. As the marketing director of one of the largest fertility practices in New Jersey, she watches women who struggle with getting pregnant and who want nothing more than to experience the miracle of childbirth. She also knows how fragile life can be after losing her mother and grandmother too soon to ovarian cancer.
Jane's mother was successfully treated for breast cancer when she was 49, but 14 years later lost her life to ovarian cancer. Jane's grandmother also lost her battle with ovarian cancer at the age of 53.
Jane's strong family history put her at an increased risk of developing ovarian or breast cancer.
Around the same time, in 1991, Fox Chase Cancer Center unveiled a new program for women at increased risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Risk Assessment (formerly the Margaret Dyson Family Risk Assessment Program, or FRAP) was developed by Mary Daly, MD, PhD, FACP. To get the program off the ground, Dr. Daly was working to recruit participants. Among the first 2 were Jane and her sister.
"My mother's dying wish was for me to have my ovaries removed before I turned 40. She did not want me to experience what she and my grandmother had," explained Jane. "I had no choice but to keep my promise. At that point I was 38 and had 3 beautiful sons so it was a pretty easy decision."
During their first meeting, Jane felt a strong connection with Dr. Daly, who agreed with her mother's suggestion to have her ovaries removed (an oophrectomy). Jane's surgery was performed at Fox Chase.
Several years later, genetic testing for breast cancer became available. Both Jane and her sister were tested to see if they carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. Women who test positive for BRCA1 have an 80% chance of developing breast cancer. While her sister and father tested negative, Jane learned that she did carry the gene.
"Because I carried the BRCA1 gene, I knew at that point that I would probably get breast cancer, but I wanted to try and trick mother nature."
Over the next several years, Jane had check-ups at Fox Chase every 3 months. As part of a research program, she took drugs designed to prevent breast cancer, including Tamoxifen and Arimidex. "We tried to fool my genetics through preventive drugs!" Jane said smiling. "But after 5 years on these drugs, apparently there is a possibility that a negative effect will occur, so I stopped in 2005."
Dr. Daly and her staff continued to keep a close eye on Jane. She had a mammogram as well as an MRI of her breasts once a year. "In May 2008, Dr. Daly called to tell me the news - my mammogram was suspicious," recalled Jane.
"I always suspected this day would come, so in a way I was mentally prepared."
"Dr. Daly scheduled a biopsy immediately which revealed cancer in my left breast. I always suspected this day would come, so in a way I was prepared. After I finished crying, I knew it was time to make an action plan and take control. I spoke with Dr. Daly and said let's go for it!"
She continued, "In a strange way, it was a relief to finally be diagnosed with cancer. I was diligent for 16 years and did my best to prevent cancer. Once I knew the day had come, I could finally take action to get it out of my body for good."
In June 2008, Jane scheduled a bilateral mastectomy with Elin Sigurdson, MD, a surgeon at Fox Chase. "She was terrific," explained Jane. During the same surgery, Sameer Patel, MD, a plastic and reconstructive surgeon reconstructed her breasts. "It was great to have everything taken care of during one surgery. I don't have enough good things to say about Dr. Patel."
"I felt like a famous person the way I was treated. The Fox Chase nurses are absolutely incredible!"
"Fox Chase offered me the best care I can ever imagine. I felt like a famous person the way I was treated. The Fox Chase nurses are absolutely incredible" said Jane, whose surgery was followed by 8 rounds of chemotherapy designed to prevent recurrence of cancer that could be elsewhere in her body.
Jane is "forever grateful to Dr. Daly, Joan James, a physician's assistant who works side by side with Dr. Daly, and their entire staff for saving my life. Many women at risk avoid programs like this because they are so afraid of breast cancer. I have always felt that knowledge is power."
"The great thing about the Family Risk Assessment Program is that I got to know everyone so well — it felt like home. I was diagnosed at the earliest stage possible — and I felt so comfortable knowing I was in such good, capable hands," Jane said. She is convinced that if more people knew of programs like this, more cancer would be caught early and less people would die as a result of their cancer.
When her treatment is behind her, Jane would like to volunteer at Fox Chase on the surgical floor. "I want to help women after breast surgery by offering support".
Believe it or not, Jane has found the silver lining in all of this. "I won't have to wear a bra again! No straps, no underwires - and I'm already looking great!" In addition to work, Jane has returned to her active lifestyle, which includes weight lifting, running with her dog, bicycling and spending time with her sons. She has plans to go skiing in December.
"I tried everything in my power to prevent cancer, but at the end of the day, I had the piece of mind knowing it was caught at the earliest — and most treatable — stage."
She concluded, "I feel truly lucky to be part of Dr. Daly's risk assessment program. I tried everything in my power to prevent cancer, but at the end of the day, I had the peace of mind knowing it was caught at the earliest - and most treatable - stage. And I have my mother, and Dr. Daly, to thank."