We are all survivors! – by Gayla Keesee

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We are all survivors!

Story by Gayla Keesee
Fayetteville, NC

My mother was having urinary problems and went into the hospital for a routine bladder tuck. However, when they went in, they found a tumor the size of a grapefruit sitting on her bladder. She was subsequently diagnosed with ovarian cancer. We didn’t know how lucky we were. She’d had no symptoms.

Ten years later, when I was 39, I noticed a dark discharge from my right breast. Earlier than year, the radiographer had noticed a small spot on my mammogram and advised me to come back in 6 months. My OB-GYN didn’t wait. She sent me to the Medical College of Georgia Cancer Clinic. I was diagnosed with a different cancer in each breast–both linked to estrogen levels. The dark discharge was caused by in situ cancer cells and had not fully formed a tumor. The left breast had a small tumor less than 2 cm. I opted to have a double mastectomy. Luckily, they didn’t find any cancer in the lymph nodes they took out. I didn’t even have to undergo chemotherapy–although I did take tamoxifen for 5 years.

We also found out my uncle had been diagnosed with breast cancer earlier that year. He eventually died when it returned in the bone marrow of his leg. Because of my family history, I had genetic testing done, which indicated I had the BRCA I mutation. I was not doomed to have cancer, but the risk was much higher than the 1 in 8 chance.

Since then one sister has tested positive and two negative. My brother won’t see a doctor, and my other sister is relying on regular mammograms. My daughter will need to have her 1st mammogram when she is 29. My “positive” sister and I have also had preventative hysterectomies. We are all survivors!

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