SISTERLY LOVE — Tarry Marchesane (left) and her sister, Chris Mautner share a lot, including a genetic mutation that makes them at a higher risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Rome Memorial Hospital offers Hereditary Cancer Risk screening to Women’s Imaging Center patients to help them understand their risk and their options. (Photo submitted)
Sisters make informed choices based upon hereditary cancer screening
Like many sisters, Tarry Marchesane and Chris Mautner share a lot with each other, like sisterly advice, their beautiful smiles, and happy family memories. Unfortunately, one thing these sisters also share is a genetic mutation that puts them at much greater risk for developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Because they both work in healthcare, Tarry is a cardio pulmonary technician at Rome Memorial Hospital and Chris is a radiation therapist for oncology at Rome Memorial Hospital Radiation Medicine, the sisters are acutely aware of the benefits of preventative medical screenings and diligently had routine mammograms each year. In addition, they had a family history of breast cancer which was the reason their 85 year old mother continued to get routine mammograms too. In fact, it was a routine mammogram that detected cancer in their mother in February 2017, but it would be a year later when that diagnosis set in motion the opportunity for Tarry and Chris to learn their own breast cancer risk.
As Tarry said, no one ever looks forward to having a mammogram. “Every time you wonder, are they going to find something? It’s stressful,” she said. But this mammogram appointment was a bit different, offering Tarry the opportunity to find out more about her cancer risk.
Because the Women’s Imaging Center at Rome Memorial Hospital now provides enhanced screening to all Women’s Imaging patients to determine hereditary risk factors for certain cancers, Tarry received a questionnaire in the mail prior to her scheduled mammogram appointment.
“I got the questionnaire in the mail and filled it out. It asked questions about my family history of cancer, which included my mother’s recent diagnosis,” Tarry said.
Following her mammogram, Tarry was provided education on her hereditary cancer risk. After speaking with a genetic counselor on the phone, she was offered the
opportunity to test for her risk.
The test was easy, according to Tarry. “I just supplied a sample of my saliva and it was sent to a lab for testing for 28 genetic mutations that impact hereditary risk for eight cancers,” she explained.
A few weeks later, Rome Memorial Hospital Nurse Navigator Linda Lyon called Tarry to set up an appointment for a meeting with herself and Radiologist John Restivo, MD, chairman of the Medical Imaging department at the hospital. At the meeting, Tarry was told that she tested positive for a BRCA1 mutation.
Specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 most notably increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, but they have also been associated with increased risks of several additional types of cancer. When there are mutations in these genes, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations which can lead to cancer.
Although a positive result to hereditary cancer risk screening does not mean a person will actually develop cancer, for Tarry it meant that she had an 87 percent greater chance of getting breast cancer and a
63 percent greater chance of getting ovarian cancer.
The first thing Tarry did after getting her test results was call her sister and her mother and tell them the findings. Both women then arranged to have the test done too and both received the same results as Tarry. The three women then notified their extended family members so that they were aware of the risk and could choose whether or not to be tested.
“Knowledge is power,” Chris said about the benefits of having genetic testing. “Knowing puts you in control of your cancer risk and could possibly save your life.”
After giving Tarry her results, Lyon and Dr. Restivo talked to her about her options. Because of the BRCA1 findings, the next course of action was for Tarry to have an MRI of her breasts. Although the MRI imaging did indicate a suspicious area, a follow-up ultrasound determined that it did not appear to be cancerous.
One option Tarry had was to have follow-up imaging done in another six months to see if there were changes in that area, but Tarry said she did not want to have the anxiety of waiting to see what happened. Tarry decided that the best option for her was to have her breasts removed surgically. She also had her ovaries removed.
“Not everyone gets this opportunity to prevent getting cancer,” Tarry said. “Although not everyone would have chosen this, it was what I felt was best for me.”
Chris agreed with Tarry and she also opted to have a double mastectomy. Both sisters are also undergoing reconstructive surgery with breast implants.
“I work with cancer patients every day and know first-hand what these patients go through. I have feelings of guilt because having this testing gave me the opportunity to prevent getting cancer. Obviously not everyone gets that opportunity,” Chris said. “Knowing your family’s medical history is vital,” she continued. “I want people to know how important it is to know your family medical history and to share your own medical information with the rest of your family.”
Although the sisters have been there for each other through months of surgeries and recovery, they both stress the importance of support when facing this type of life altering situation. Both credit their husbands for helping them get through the tough days, and Chris explained that there are even on-line support groups of people who have had to make the choice of what to do after learning their hereditary cancer risk.
“It has been a very emotional time,” Tarry explained, “because you realize that this not only affects you but that you potentially could have passed this genetic mutation on to your children.”
“People are always telling us that we are brave and courageous, but we are just doing what we had to do, what was right for us,” Chris said. “The one thing I would tell people is that it is so important to follow early detection guidelines. Get screened, get check-ups and be your own health advocate.”
“We are so lucky to have hereditary cancer risk screening available at Rome Memorial Hospital,” Tarry said. “Because I was able to get tested, Chris and I have been able to reduce our chances of developing breast cancer from 87 percent to one percent. I have no regrets about having the testing and the course of action that I chose and Chris doesn’t either. It may not be for everyone, but I would do it all again because of the peace of mind that I feel now.”
For more information about the hereditary cancer risk screening program and Rome Memorial Hospital’s Medical Imaging Center, please contact Leigh Loughran, operations manager, at 315-338-7577.