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At the age of 58, Kim Chestnut's mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. She fought the disease for 13 years, but finally lost her battle. Kim, mother of 2, was 47 at the time of her mother's death. Knowing that ovarian cancer is linked to family history, Kim underwent genetic testing. The results indicated that Kim did carry the BRCA2 gene, meaning she was at increased risk of ovarian cancer. She had 2 choices: 1) to be monitored closely by her doctor; or 2) to have her ovaries surgically removed.
"I saw what my mom went through."
Kim decided to cut her chances by having surgery to remove her uterus, ovaries and fallopian tubes (hysterectomy and bilateral salpingo-oophorectomy). "My mom would have wanted me to have the surgery so I wouldn't have ovarian cancer like she did," shared Kim.
"Dr. Burger is a very nice doctor and so easy to talk to."
She made an appointment with Robert Burger, MD, director of the Women's Cancer Center at Fox Chase Cancer Center. Dr. Burger, a gynecologic surgeon, is specially trained to use the da Vinci® robot to assist him in the operating room. Robotic assisted surgery was important to Kim so she could have a faster and easier recovery.
At work in a local grocery store, Kim spends most of the time on her feet. "I couldn't afford to be out of work for too long," said Kim.
"The nurses were terrific. Fox Chase is a wonderful hospital."
In September 2009, Kim was admitted to the hospital for her procedure. She stayed overnight and was released the next day. Thanks to the advances in robotic surgery, Kim was back to work within several weeks. Her incisions were tiny and she experienced minimal bleeding.
Genetic testing may lead to cancer prevention.
The Chestnuts have two sons in their early 20s. Neither has gone through genetic testing at this point, but plan to in the future. Kim's niece, however, who is 24, agreed to be tested and her results were negative.
Kim recommends anyone be tested for genetic risk if ovarian or breast cancer runs in their family. "It can't hurt to find out if you carry the gene," explained Kim. "Because today, there are several ways to prevent cancer. Unfortunately, there are no reliable screening tools for ovarian cancer as there are for other cancers. Most women are diagnosed when it's too late - like my mom." Kim's mother had back pain and was initially treated for kidney stones. By the time she was diagnosed, the cancer had advanced.
The middle of three girls, Kim was the first to be tested. Her younger sister was tested for the BRCA gene, while her older sister chose not to. "The one who got tested is positive. She's 41 and would like to have a baby within the year. If she doesn't get pregnant, she will consider a hysterectomy, just like me. My older sister just doesn't want to know," admitted Kim.
"I'm so glad I got tested - and had the surgery."
"Now ovarian cancer is one thing I don't have to worry about," Kim said. "Now I need to work on preventing breast cancer." Kim has entered the family risk assessment program at Fox Chase. Under the care of Angela Bradbury, MD, director of Breast and Ovarian Risk Assessment, Kim will be closely monitored for breast cancer with mammograms and breast MRI. She is considering a 5-year course of tamoxifen to further reduce her risk of breast cancer.
"We are so lucky to have Fox Chase so close by."
"The doctors at Fox Chase monitor me closely. I know that if I am diagnosed with breast cancer at some point, it will be very early and treatable."