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Betsy Billigmeier - Patient Story

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“A lot of credit goes to the medical staff at Fox Chase. They understood my concerns and listened to me"

— Betsy Billigmeier

I decided to undergo genetic testing at Fox Chase Cancer Center several years ago. My mother had had a double mastectomy after her diagnosis of breast cancer, and I was aware of the genetic link between breast and ovarian cancer. I needed to know if I had a genetic risk for developing cancer, and testing showed that I carried the BRCA2 gene. I also encouraged my 2 daughters to undergo testing as well.

After I got the results of the genetic testing, my daughters and I enrolled in the Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase. The counselors in the program gave us a very helpful workbook that explored the options for high-risk women. My options, they said, ranged from increased monitoring, to taking medication, to electing for preventive surgery to remove my breasts and/or ovaries.

My physician explained that there are challenges involved with ovarian cancer screening and suggested that I undergo a prophylactic oophorectomy to remove my ovaries, which could eliminate the risk of ovarian cancer. Although I knew I would not want to have more children, I resisted that idea because I feared the onset of early menopause. I was worried that such a quick onset of menopause would lead to unbearable hot flashes, no sex drive, and mood swings. So I made no decision about the surgery for a couple of years.

Over those 2 years, my family, especially my father, urged me to have the surgery. Then a dear friend and neighbor going through treatment for colon cancer talked to me. Faye said that if she had known about a test that could at indicated she was at risk for cancer and that there was a preventive procedure, she would have done it all in a heartbeat rather than going through what she was going through. When Faye died, that really hit home with me.

In 2011, at age 42, I had had my first appointment with a surgeon at Fox Chase, who thoroughly answered all my questions. He made analogies that made sense to me, but he also knew I was scared and didn’t push me into a decision. I took my time considering my options, and then I returned in 2012 to discuss the procedure. I brought my parents and sister with me for the appointment. After all the discussion, I decided to schedule surgery to have my ovaries removed in November that year when I was 43.

Fortunately, all the menopausal symptoms were completely manageable after surgery. I had hot flashes and some joint pain that lasted about 8 to 12 months, but I also started exercising more, which helped a lot with those symptoms.

I am 100% confident that I made the right decision to have the surgery, even though it took some time to make the decision. A lot of credit goes to the medical staff at Fox Chase, who understood my concerns and listened to me. Everybody at Fox Chase, from the hospital staff and nurses to the anesthesiologist, took their time and made sure I was informed and comfortable.

I feel at peace about my decision, and I don’t have to worry about getting ovarian cancer. I am relieved and happy with my decision.

 

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