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Refusing to Let Ovarian Cancer Take Over My Life - Why BRCA Testing is So Important

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Jewel Figueras ovarian cancer All Photos Courtesy of Jewel Figueras

After a fabulous family vacation in Mexico, I returned home with extreme stomach pain. Ultrasound in the emergency room revealed diverticulitis, but also a huge mass on my ovary. Two days later, an oncologist/gynecologist walked into my hospital room and announced that I had cancer. A week later, I was in surgery and a few weeks after that, I was completely devastated to learn that I was now a Stage IV Ovarian Cancer survivor and would be in the fight for the rest of my life. After my initial surgery, I also developed a blood clot in my leg and was started on blood thinners. Then came the dreaded chemotherapy treatments. Months later, I was pronounced NED and thought life would get back to normal. Boy, was I wrong! Six months after treatment and only a day after the end of the Ovarian Cancer National Conference in Washington, DC, I landed in the hospital with a brain bleed brought on by the blood thinners. Luckily, I ended up with no major damage to my brain.

Ten months after treatment, the Beast returned. Thank God for the never ending support of my family and friends. I couldn't have gotten through chemo again without them. Because I'm always full of surprises, I also developed clots in the middle of treatment, both in legs and lungs. Even though they scare the daylights out of me, I'm back on blood thinners. It seems that the benefits outweigh the risks.

ovarian cancer

Very early on and in an effort to understand why I was chosen, I underwent genetic counseling and testing. The genetics counseling was interesting. My first inclination was to say that I had NO family history of ovarian cancer. However, with the help of the counselor, I figured out that I truly didn’t know. My family, like many, really didn’t openly discuss medical issues and causes of death. I realized that I hadn’t a clue about the cause of death for many extended family members. I was no longer sure if I had family history and I needed to know if I carried the BRCA gene mutation. The tests came back negative. But there’s always a small chance that there was some error. A woman can never rest on a negative BRCA test, even without family history.

BRCA testing is important to me, as I have three gorgeous and smart children—2 girls and a boy. Only about 1.3 percent of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer in their lifetime, according to the SEER Cancer Statistics Review. But nearly 39 percent of women who inherit the BRCA1 gene mutation and 11 to 17 percent of women with the BRCA2 gene mutation will develop ovarian cancer, National Cancer Institute said. You can inherit the gene from either parent. This means that even my son could pass it to his offspring. Anyone who has family history of ovarian and/or breast cancers in their families should definitely be tested.

Jewel Figueras ovarian cancer

At the moment (three months out of chemo), I' m doing well. My challenge now is to manage cancer as a chronic disease. Cancer can be beat. I beat it daily--everytime I write a fabulous blog post or make a lunch date with a friend or book a trip as a travel blogger. While it's always in the back of my mind, I refuse to let cancer take over my life.

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EmpowHER Guest

You inspire me daily Jewel. You truly are a superhero!

September 18, 2015 - 5:25pm
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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