December 31, 2012
Dr. Anu Bajaj, M.D.
Reconstructive Surgery, Oklahoma Community, breast cancer gene

Oklahoma Sisters Take Action Against Ovarian Cancer

A recent article in The Oklahoman told the story of two sisters from Edmond who took action after being diagnosed with the “breast cancer gene.”

Just 19 days after being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Wendy and Stacy’s mother, Judy Werber, passed away. Both sisters, as well as their mother, have what scientists call the “breast cancer gene.”

This gene earned its name, because statistics reveal that women carrying this gene are at higher risk in developing breast and ovarian cancer. According to Dr. David Burger, a board-certified radiologist at Integris Comprehensive Breast Center of Oklahoma, women with the BRCA 1 or BRCA 2 gene mutations have a 60 percent lifetime risk of developing breast cancer. For the general population, it’s about 12.5 percent or one in eight.

Not only are these women faced with the possibility of breast cancer, but approximately 40 percent of these cases may develop ovarian cancer as compared to 1.4 percent of the general population.

What these sisters decided next would change the course of their lives forever.

Within a few months of each other in 2011, both Wendy Shepherd, 35, and Stacey Holden, 37, both of Edmond, opted to have their breasts and ovaries removed. Both women also plan to have reconstructive surgery in the coming year.

Getting Past Fear and Charting a Proactive Course

In the weeks before her surgery, Holden was scared. Scared she wouldn’t be able to take of her three children. Scared she would have scars as a constant reminder. Both Stacey and Wendy also have the additional fear of knowing their daughters may also carry the mutated BRCA genes.

But both Wendy and Stacy understand that fear can keep women from getting the care they need to fight this insidious disease, just like it did for their mother. Afraid of the financial implications of being sick, Judy Werber had signed a waiver for coverage that included gynecological issues.

After weeks of symptoms that included, fatigue, back pain, bloating, and indigestion, it was during gall bladder surgery that doctors found the cancer tumors. Three days before Werber’s death, test results came back positive for BRCA-1. Both her daughters, Stacey and Wendy, carry those genes which lead them to their own very personal decision for removal of their reproductive organs.

Now both sisters are charting a course to proactively bring awareness, and also alleviate that fear, many women have about this deadly disease. Wearing teal ribbons and incorporating teal into their daily wardrobe, they’re hope is that the teal ribbon becomes as identifiable to ovarian cancer as the pink ribbon was for breast cancer.

Both sisters now know the feeling of losing a mother too soon, and will do anything in their power from keeping other families from going through this excruciating loss.