Genetics & Cancer: Decision For Mastectomy Saves Woman’s Life

Thursday, September 12th 2019, 10:20 am
By: LeAnne Taylor

Most women who get breast cancer do not have an inherited gene mutation. But for a small percentage of patients, their breast cancer can be passed down through the family. So, it's important to know your family history. 

That's one of the things to talk about as we get ready to Race for the Cure.

Family is incredibly important to Lisa Ramsey. She's a mom to three and grandma to nine.

But it was her family medical history that prompted years of health concerns. In 1981, her mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  In 2000, Lisa got that same diagnosis. She made it through ovarian cancer and was tested for the breast cancer gene BRCA 1 & 2. The test was positive.

Breast surgeon, Dr. John Frame says "BRCA 1 and 2 both have a remarkably elevated risk for breast cancer and actually more importantly ovarian cancer."

Now, Lisa was faced with a new concern; so, she decided to get a preventive double mastectomy.

"And after the surgery was done, they always do lab work on it and it was pre-cancerous so that most likely saved my life in the long run," Lisa said.

Lisa was now on a mission to help her cousins, pushing them to also be tested. Her cousin Faye put it off.

"For the next 2 years, I'm dogging her go get your breasts checked you know. Find out about getting a double mastectomy, and she said ‘I really was going to do it but I just got too busy.’ And then the news came in 2011. She called me and she said Lisa, ‘I have triple-negative breast cancer.’" Lisa said. 

Faye began her journey battling breast cancer, but it was too late.

"We just really thought that she had the best chance from where she stood but, unfortunately, she died in January of this year, 2019; so, it was a 10-year fight for her with very little break."

Dr. Frame believes genetic testing can help patients come up with a plan.

"My job is to layout in front of them what's the real risk, how worried do I need to be? How soon should I make a decision about doing something as radical as a mastectomy or hysterectomy or ovarian removal."

Lisa is grateful for genetic testing.

"My biggest fear is my grandchildren that's the thing that scares me the most, but I rest assured that they can be tested and they can be pro-active." 

Lisa battled ovarian cancer and was able to avoid breast cancer. She says when faced with these decisions, you have to be ready to fight.

"I was sick. It was hard, but I was real dogged. I was like let's do it. Let's do it now. Let's get it done and when it was time for another surgery, I said get me in there... let's do it. It was just my attitude. I'm going to beat this. I've got to beat this. I've got a lot of life left to live!"