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

It’s one thing to find out you test positive for the BRCA2 gene.  It’s another thing to know what to do with that sobering knowledge. Betsy Billigmeier supported her own mother through two bouts with breast cancer, including treatment with a double mastectomy.  Aware of the genetic link between breast and ovarian cancer, Betsy opted for genetic testing at Fox Chase Cancer Center. When Betsy learned she carried the BRCA2 gene, this single mother urged her daughters to undergo testing.

Genetic testing revealed Besty carried the BRCA2 gene.

Betsy enrolled in the Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase Cancer Center for both testing and counseling. Mary B. Daly, MD, PhD, founded the program in 1991 and still runs it today.

“My counselors gave us a very helpful workbook that explored the options we had as high risk women,” recalled Betsy, who works as a family therapist. “My options ranged from increased monitoring to taking medication to electing for preventative surgery to removing my breasts and/or ovaries.”

Betsy’s physician explained the challenges with ovarian cancer screening and suggested a prophylactic oophorectomy, a procedure to remove the ovaries, which eliminates the risk of developing ovarian cancer. Although Betsy knew she didn’t want any more children, she resisted the surgery because she dreaded the onset of surgically induced menopause. “I was worried about the side effects, happening overnight, with unbearable hot flashes, no sex drive and mood swings.”

After losing a good friend to colon cancer, Betsy opted to pursue the preventive surgery.

One year turned into two, and her family, her dad in particular, urged Betsy to go through with the surgery. But it was a friend who finally convinced her.“Faye, one of my very dear friends and neighbors, was going through treatment for colon cancer at the time,” Betsy recalled. “I remember talking to her and she said, ‘If I had known of any test that would have told me I was at high risk for colon cancer and that there was a preventative procedure available; I would have done it all in a heartbeat vs. going through what I’m going through right now.’ Faye didn’t make it. That really hit home with me.”

In 2011, at the age of 42, Betsy had her first appointment with a surgeon at Fox Chase Women’s Cancer Center. The surgeon (no longer on staff at Fox Chase) was able to answer Betsy’s questions thoroughly. “He used analogies that made everything make sense,” she recalled. “He knew I was scared, and didn’t push me.”

Betsy took her time to consider her options and returned in 2012 to discuss the procedure. She brought her parents and sister and together with her surgeon, decided to proceed with surgery to remove her ovaries in November. She was 43 at the time. Turns out, her menopausal symptoms were completely manageable. “I had hot flashes and some joint pain that lasted about eight to 12 months. I started exercising more, which helped a lot. ”

Completely confident with her decision.

Betsy is 100 percent sure she did the right thing, even though for her personally it took some time to make the decision. “A lot of credit goes to the medical staff at Fox Chase. They understood my concerns and listened to me,” shared Betsy. “Everybody at Fox Chase, from the hospital staff and nurses to the anesthesiologist, took their time and made sure I was informed and comfortable. Now, I do feel at peace. I don’t have to worry about getting ovarian cancer.  That reality of my choice to have the surgery is still sinking into my brain! I am relieved and happy about that.”

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