Fox Chase offers a Risk Assessment Program for individuals and families at risk for cancer and those with cancer—including breast, ovarian, gastrointestinal, endocrine, kidney, diffuse gastric, uterine and skin cancers. Our team of physicians, nurses and genetic counselors provides clinical and genetic evaluation and testing, screening and cancer risk-reduction services. To contact Fox Chase about these programs call 877-627-9684.
“Triple Negative Breast Cancer. I literally could not say the words out loud.”
I had taken many steps to reduce my risk of breast cancer. I stayed active and maintained a healthy diet. I underwent genetic testing, followed by two double mastectomies and a hysterectomy. But even with all of that, I got breast cancer.
A Genetic Link
When I was 30 years old, I finally located my birth mother, only to discover that she had died at age 47 with bilateral breast cancer. Her husband recommended that I get genetic testing to determine whether I also was at risk.
I made an appointment with Mary Daly, director of the Risk Assessment Program at Fox Chase, who reviewed my birth parents’ family histories and conducted genetic testing to determine my chance of getting cancer.
The genetic tests showed that I had a BRCA1 gene mutation, which greatly increased my risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. It didn’t surprise me, given my birth mother’s history, but I was still scared and tried to focus on the fact that Fox Chase was the best place I could be.
Dr. Daly recommended that I have a double prophylactic mastectomy to remove both of my breasts. The National Cancer Institute has advised that women who have my genetic mutation can reduce their risk of breast cancer by as much as 95% if they have the procedure.
I decided to have surgery. I knew that I would still be at risk because of the genetic mutation, but I also knew that the double mastectomy could decrease my chances of developing cancer.
Because I had not been diagnosed with cancer, my health insurance plan required that the surgery be performed at a local hospital. Unfortunately, the surgeon left too much breast tissue behind, so I had to have a second surgery in 2009 to remove that tissue, and I had a prophylactic hysterectomy at the same time to reduce my chance of ovarian cancer.
A Disheartening Diagnosis
After those procedures I didn’t need an annual mammogram, but I continued to do self-exams. One day in 2012 I found a small lump under my arm, and I immediately contacted my longtime doctor at Fox Chase, John Hoffman, MD, FACS, a surgical oncologist. I was hoping that the lump was just a swollen lymph node, but I feared the worst. Dr. Hoffman conducted a biopsy and confirmed that I had triple negative breast cancer.
My first thought was that I had done everything I could possibly do to prevent cancer, but I now had to deal with the diagnosis. After going through some strong emotions, I rallied myself with positive thoughts: “I have cancer, and I’m going to fix it.” and “I am strong, and I am going to figure this out.”
Treatment From A Dedicated Team
Dr. Hoffman quickly came up with a treatment plan for me and set up appointments with a team of breast cancer specialists at Fox Chase, including surgeon Marcia Boraas, radiation oncologist Penny Anderson, and plastic and reconstructive surgical oncologist Sameer Patel. Dr. Hoffman was the quarterback of the team, and I referred to him as "QB1."
Having all of my doctors in one place at one time communicating with each other about my care was really important to me.
My treatment began with a lumpectomy followed by a course of chemotherapy. I was very upset about losing my long hair during chemotherapy, but it was a minor problem within the scheme of things. I decided to get a buzz cut before I started chemo, and it was actually quite liberating.
I also underwent a 30-day course of radiation therapy with a group of radiation technologists who I referred to as my “dream team.”
Along with the support from my doctors, the support I received from the breast cancer nurses throughout my treatment and after was amazing.
I managed my stress throughout my treatments by switching out my usual cardio workout routine with high-intensity interval training using P90X. It became my goal to work out every single morning before going to radiation, and I was able to meet that goal.
Living Beyond Breast Cancer
Today I am cancer free, and I credit my survival to Fox Chase. Where you start your cancer treatment really does make a difference. You have got to act with a sense of urgency because it can mean the difference between life and death. I unequivocally believe that I am alive today because I chose Fox Chase.