In 1969, my mom, Barbara Hopkins was just 32 years old. She developed a very small lump in her breast and was assured that she did NOT have cancer. When she awoke from surgery, she learned she did indeed have cancer and found that the surgeon had performed a radical mastectomy. At that time, there was no history of cancer in our family, and we did not know what the future had in store for us. Thankfully, mom survived that surgery and was declared cancer-free.In 1982, mom was diagnosed with cancer again. This time it was ovarian cancer. She underwent surgery and chemotherapy. She was thankfully declared cancer-free again. Even then, we had no idea what we were facing as a family.
In 1986, my oldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer. A young mother of two, she was terrified. She had seen what our mother had gone through and certainly had a deeper understanding of the feeling a mother has when she thinks she may not survive to raise her children. Thankfully, surgery was all that was required, and my sister was declared cancer-free.
In 1992, mom got breast cancer again, this time in the other breast. This breast cancer was unrelated to her first breast cancer. Our family was devastated and shocked that this could happen as mom had since had reconstructive surgery, and in so doing, had her other breast removed to improve the reconstruction results and reduce the risk of cancer. Mom underwent surgery and chemotherapy, and thankfully she was again declared cancer-free.
Then, while pregnant, my next oldest sister was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1994. She was at the six-month point of her pregnancy. She had to take a treatment to improve her unborn child’s lungs so he could be delivered at 7 months. A sweet little 4.5 pound baby boy was born, and my sister began chemotherapy. Eventually, she tried an autologous bone marrow transplant. Unfortunately, nothing helped, and she passed away when her son was just one year old.
At that point, Dr. King had recently discovered the genetic mutations on the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes that predispose a woman to breast and ovarian cancer. Upon my sister’s passing, we were able to collect blood from her and the other women in our family and enter Dr. King’s study. That is when we learned of this horrific mutation that was passed on to mom, BRCA 1. But having that information also gave us a sense of peace because it explained the cancer that had inundated our family. It is likely that mom inherited her mutation from her father, and that explains why there were no women before mom in our family with these cancers.
Now, sadly, mom has developed ovarian cancer again. A diagnosis 30 years after her first diagnosis shocked and stunned us as there are not many examples of a second ovarian cancer so many years later. However, with good medical advice from mom’s doctors, a positive attitude, good nutrition and family support, she is doing remarkably well.
Our family feels that Dr. Elizabeth Swisher’s project is very important because, if we had known about this mutation in 1965, the women in our family would have been able to make decisions about their health and hopefully take action to prevent hearing those words: “You have cancer.”
We send all of you our thoughts and healthy energy for many more and better tomorrows!