Tiffany Reiss Seely

“Running Scared” – I choose this title because it was the actual act of running that led me to the right people. I was 14 when I was told that my mom was sick. I was at sleep away camp and was told mom was in the hospital having a minor surgery. My dad didn’t want me to worry. The truth was she was undergoing a complete hysterectomy. At the age of 38, my mother, Shevi Reiss, was diagnosed with stage 4 Ovarian Cancer. No signs, no symptoms, not a single person in the family prior to her was sick.

How then was it possible, that she was so sick? At the time, I didn’t really know what that meant and always assumed she would be just fine. I knew cancer was bad, but I had hope. I mean as a child when you get sick you go to the doctor and they give you a prescription for something and you go home. A few days go by and you get better. That was all I really knew about being sick. I learned much more about it in the coming years. Mom wasn’t just sick she was dying. Ovarian cancer, which I refer to as “the silent killer”, was taking away my mothers most beautiful years.

It was threatening her future dreams of seeing her 2 daughters through all the wonderful stages of our lives. Mom fought for just about 3 years until ovarian cancer ultimately delivered her fate. Mom died on Rosh Hashshonah 1990. They say only really special “the chosen” die on that day. I would have rather her not be so special. She missed high school graduation, college, my wedding, my firstborn, my second born and the chance to be the most wonderful grandparent alive. Now, she is missing her daughters’ triumphant decisions to live beyond age 38!

I was told something about a gene test about 8 years back. Every time I inquired about it to my gynecologists I got the run around. Either I was given a phone number to call to no avail, or a blank stare. There was even one who told me she had no idea what I was talking about, but would look into it for me. That never happened.

Time passed and I was raising two children living in Long Island buying my first house and living the dream. Genetic testing wasn’t always the first thing on my mind. I guess I figured one day someone would know what to do. I trusted my doctors and if they didn’t know about it well then maybe it didn’t really exist. But, I have to say always trust your gut because deep down inside I knew I had to pursue a bit harder. Plus my dad kept pushing for it as well. I was stuck and didn’t know where to turn?

It was a challenge and struggle to get to the right place. Raising two young children became my focus and other things took a back seat to them.

I decided the least I could do was live healthier, so I started running. I had never really run before!! But, I felt the need to run. And so, I decided to tell everyone I was going to complete a marathon in the name of my mother.

Just in case you don’t know this, when one says they are going to run a marathon, unless you break your foot, you’re doing it. So I began to train. I met a girl named Heather at a mutual friends’ child’s birthday party, whom I had met when I first moved into the neighborhood, but we didn’t become friends then. We were both admiring how dry our hands were and got on the topic of running. See, we both ran outside in the dead of winter and our hands were dry.

She asked me how much ran and I told her I was in training for a marathon. She said,” me too”. And here is where the title comes in. We began to run at 5Am religiously together. She had one rule. No talking while we run. I obliged and the first morning we talked the ENTIRE run through, and thus, she saved my life. Not only had our paths crossed before, but she knew the one piece of information that would change my life forever.

After hearing the story about my mom, she told me about a doctor who spoke at her friend’s house about a gene test. She urged me to call him that same morning. I never even knew the name of it before that day. When I got home that morning I made the call to a Dr. Jonathan Herman. I made an appointment to come in and within a week was sitting in his office. This very passionate kind man introduced himself to me and told me I was in the right place. We talked about my mom and her family history and found out things I never thought would be important.

For instance, my mothers paternal Aunt died of breast cancer at age 70. AHA!, the link, my moms dad’s sister had breast cancer. But what did that prove? It proved that through my grandfather, my mom got this gene, which predisposed her to breast and ovarian cancer. It also made cancer appear to have skipped a generation because it came through my grandfather’s line. So, since my mom was so young and her aunt did not yet have cancer, she was the first. Correction, she was the youngest. So, Dr. Herman suggested that my sister and I take the Multisite test.

He said it would help determine if a broken gene that connects breast and ovarian cancer has been passed down to us. Okay, so what next? I figured this must be some great big tadoo of a test. Wrong again, go into the back room and give blood. What? Give blood? It’s a simple blood test? I couldn’t believe my ears. I have been searching for a test that can save my life that takes 3 seconds to do, and not one single doctor ever knew about it. I was floored, frustrated, relieved, angry, all of it. But of all the feelings I had, thankful was the most dominant!! It was supposed to take 2-4 weeks for an answer.

I took the test May 2, 2007 and received the results on May 14, 2007. Dr. Herman informed me that I was BRCA 1 positive. My sister also came back positive. What that meant was that we had an 87% chance of breast cancer and a 44% chance of ovarian by age 70. Age 70, wait a minute I am only 33, and mom was only 38. He advised me to come in and discuss my options. I did so the very next day. I already knew what I had to do for me. I made the decision to have a prophylactic double mastectomy with reconstruction and a Salpingo-Oopherectomy.

My sister made the same decisions. It was the most empowered I had ever felt in my whole life. It was the one decision I knew was 100% right for me. Now, I was going to see my children through all the amazing stages of their lives. Graduations, wedding, births and becoming a grandparent were all real possibilities.

On June19, 2007 I underwent my first of many surgeries. I had a wonderful team. Dr. Gordon did the mastectomy (I was the last patient of his career); Dr. Leipziger did my reconstruction (beyond amazing, he put me back together) and Dr. Herman my oophorectomy (the man is a walking angel).

I thank Dr. Herman for the great news!! For spreading the word and saving lives. I thank him for giving me the opportunity to make a decision that would change my life. It was truly a gift. I no longer worry that I too will be pray to my mother’s fate. My prophylactic double mastectomy revealed an in-situ breast cancer. It was so early, but today, instead of writing this article and recovering from breast cancer.

I’m writing this article recovering from surgeries I chose to have in order to save my life. I am no longer running scared.

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