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In 2011, Carlette Knox was asked to make a short film about her experience in RAP.
Carlette Knox knew she was at risk for cancer before she felt the lump in her right breast in 2009. Cancer was a topic that she and her four sisters had discussed, mainly because their mother was treated twice for breast cancer and was currently being treated for pancreatic cancer. Their father had died of colon cancer and many members of the extended family had also fought this disease.
"The Fox Chase team offered care that was personalized.”
When Carlette's diagnosis was confirmed, she was determined to find a dedicated cancer center for her treatment. “I wanted to know all of my options,” she said. After doing some research, Carlette decided to go to Fox Chase Cancer Center, and met with three members of the breast cancer treatment team, medical oncologist Lori J. Goldstein, MD, surgical oncologist Richard J. Bleicher MD, FACS, and Sameer A. Patel, MD, FACS, plastic and reconstructive surgeon. “From the beginning, they didn’t just look at me as a chart. The Fox Chase team offered care that was personalized, taking into consideration all aspects of what was going on in the family.”
"I’m the first daughter to get breast cancer, so I knew I’d test positive for the gene mutation.”
For the first time in her life, Carlette was encouraged to participate in genetic testing. She met with a Fox Chase certified genetic counselor, Andrea Forman, MS, CGC, who helped explain the benefits of testing. “It was scary, and a serious decision that could affect the type of care I chose," shared Carlette. "But Andrea helped me through the process. I’m the first daughter to get breast cancer, so I knew I’d test positive for the gene mutation.”
Over the next few weeks, Carlette considered her treatment options and the implications of being a carrier of the BRCA gene. She opted to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction with Dr. Bleicher and Dr. Patel working side-by-side. She chose not to tell her family about it until the day of her surgery at the end of March 2010. “At the time, our mother was battling pancreatic cancer, I didn’t want anyone to worry about me . (Her mother subsequently passed away in April 2011.) I knew they’d try to talk me out of it, I did it the way I needed to do it.”
After a six week recovery from surgery, Carlette began a course of chemotherapy. Because of her family history, the chemotherapy was especially potent for four of the 16 cycles. “It was rough. Dr. Goldstein was so great, though. There were times I would have stopped, but she kept telling me how important this part of my treatment was.” One nurse in particular was a cheerleader, Carlette recalled. “I could tell she really cared about me, how I was doing.” After chemotherapy, Carlette underwent radiation therapy, finishing her breast cancer treatment right before the New Year. "I celebrated my birthday on New Year's, so I was elated to be finished with treatment."
Due to her genetic predisposition, Carlette learned she was also at increased risk for ovarian cancer. In February 2011, Carlette opted for prophylactic oophrectomy (laparoscopic surgery to remove her ovaries) in order to prevent cancer. Fox Chase gynecologic surgeon, Mark Morgan, MD, FACOG, FACS, performed the surgery. "That was quick and easy, and now it’s done,” recalled Carlette.
“One of the things you learn right away is that if you test positive, you can’t let the disease consume your life.”
Carlette’s decision to be tested for BRCA affected her four sisters as well. Three opted to be tested, with the youngest, Jasmine, testing positive at age 25. One sister declined to go through the process. “One of the things you learn right away is that if you test positive, you can’t let the disease consume your life,” she said. “You have to be on top of preventative care, but the focus needs to be on living your life. I think it’s better to know. All those years of my mother getting care, genetic testing was never encouraged and it was no secret there were five daughters at risk.” “After all is said and done, I’m grateful not only to my team at Fox Chase but to my family and friends who supported me along this journey! I am blessed and embracing life!”