From left to right: Kellie Thilmony, Amy Cabbage-Bork, Martha Zimmerman, Ellen Lee, and Terri Eyer
National Breast Cancer Awareness Month has come and gone, but that is not an excuse to ignore breast cancer for another year. According to National Cancer Institute 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Basically, this means that you are either related to or friends with a woman who has been or will be diagnosed with breast cancer. 1 in 8 is a very daunting rate in and of itself, but what would you do if those odds were around 90%? Ellen Lee, of Paxton, was confronted with this terrifying prognosis when her sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in May of 2010.
When Ellen’s sister Terri was diagnosed with breast cancer they also discovered that she had a BRCA 2 gene mutation. Anyone with this gene mutation has up to a 90% chance of being diagnosed with breast cancer and up to a 44% chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer. To make matters worse, a blood relative of someone diagnosed with a BRCA 2 gene mutation has a 50/50 chance of having this mutation also. For Ellen and her family this became a devastating reality when they received this information. In August 2010, Ellen, her other sister, Amy, her mother, Martha, and her niece, Kellie, found out that they too had the BRCA 2 gene mutation.
“When I received my test results, I was home on my lunch break from work,” said Ellen. “I cried for about a minute and then decided I couldn't change the outcome and decided to do something about my situation and attack it head on.
With this diagnosis Ellen and her family began to research the numerous options available to them. Rather than wait for the day when a doctor would tell her she had breast cancer Ellen took a stand and decided to be proactive with her treatment.
“For me the thought was if you know about this and you can do something about it, why wait, said Ellen.”
In January of 2011, Ellen took a huge step in her personal battle against the BRCA 2 gene mutation and had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. 5 months later she would again go under the knife for prophylactic bilateral mastectomies with Gibson Area Hospital & Health Services (GAHHS) General Surgeons, Anthony San Diego, M.D. and Joseph Chung, M.D. With this procedure the breast tissue is removed, while the nipples and the skin are spared to allow for insertion of expanders. Immediately after the bilateral mastectomies, GAHHS Cosmetic Surgeon Chad Tattini, M.D. began the breast reconstruction surgery and inserted the expanders. The expanders were expanded for about 6 months at which time Dr. Tattini replaced them with implants. Ellen said that while this may not be the best option for everyone, she feels that it was a great decision for her.
“Looking back I know I made the right decision to be proactive and have these surgeries. Because I had these surgeries I now have a 95% decreased chance of getting breast and ovarian cancer. These are odds I can live with,” said Ellen,
Ellen said while her decisions where not easy ones, she received nothing but support from her husband Steven and their sons, Luke and Nathan. “They, along with the rest of my family, friends, my pastor Terry Westerfield, and fellow church members were a great comfort to me before and after my surgeries.”
For those who are facing risks from hereditary breast and ovarian cancers, Ellen recommends the support group FORCE (Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered). “FORCE is a great recourse for BRCA gene mutations carriers. While I was researching my options, I came across their website, www.facingourrisk.org, and it provided me with a lot of good information to help me through this ordeal,“ said Ellen.