Anchor's wife undergoes surgery to stop cancer before it starts
By Rachel Leigh| October 28, 2011 at 10:30 AM EST - Updated June 25 at 7:10 PM
WEST PALM BEACH, FL (WFLX) - When I got married 11 years ago to my wife, Amy, I selfishly thought I had already gotten over the "in sickness and in health" part. The previous year, Amy had surgery for a brain tumor. With that behind us, what else could happen?
We found out just over two years ago when Amy's sister, Jan, was diagnosed with ovarian and uterine cancer. That got Amy thinking about her family's health history.
"My grandmother died at 33 of breast cancer, her mother died of breast cancer, my dad's first female cousins most of them had cancer," Amy told me.
So she chose to get genetic testing, a relatively expensive procedure that is sometimes covered by insurance. "I really didn't sleep for a few weeks, I was scared," she said.
The result, a positive B-R-C-A mutation. What it meant was that while Amy didn't have cancer, she had a nearly 50-50 shot of developing ovarian cancer and an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer at some point in her life.
"I just didn't feel like those odds were very good for me; that it was inevitable I was going to get it so I wanted to cure myself," she said.
She met often with Cathy Marinak, the head of the Cancer Risk Assessment and Genetics Program at Jupiter Medical Center.
"Our hope and our goal is to screen patients through the breast program here so we can test them and identify them at increase risk so that they're previvors," said Marinak.
A previvor is a person who has not had cancer but could develop it. Previvors don't all have BRCA mutations or undergo surgical procedures. My wife though chose that route to drastically reduce her cancer risk. In 2010, she underwent both a hysterectomy and a double mastectomy with reconstruction.
"I want the tissue out, I want it gone," she said. "It's basically just fat and tissue at the end of the day."
Fast forward to today, and you wouldn't be able to tell what a year it has been. My wife is now giving back in many ways. Earlier this year, Amy walked in memory of one of my former television colleagues Kristin Hoke, who also had a BRCA mutation which signaled the cancer that would take her life in 2010.
In addition, she just became the Palm Beach County outreach coordinator for the group FORCE, Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered . It's the only national nonprofit devoted to improving the lives of those affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
"I hold support meetings, I fundraise, I get the word out, I go to doctors offices."
Last month, Palm Beach County Commissioners issued a proclamation marking National Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer week and National Previvor Day.
"It's a big thing for FORCE. People don't know about this. People don't know about the BRCA gene and if they do know about it, they just don't understand it," Amy explained.
Marinak says while she can guide a patient through the clinical decisions and offer emotional support, it is Amy who can provide first-hand knowledge.
"When I put the brochure out with Amy's story about her previvorship and her journey, it is gone every single time," said Marinak.
Amy says her siblings supported her decision to be a "previvor" rather than a "survivor" and so did I.
"Knowing your medical history is one of the most loving things you can do for yourself and your family," said Amy.
She is the bravest woman I know. Since my wife had her surgeries, her risk of developing breast cancer has dropped from up to 87 percent to 3 percent; that's well below the 12 percent or 1 in 8 risk most women carry and she has eliminated her risk of getting ovarian cancer.