On the night of December 17, 2007, my life was forever changed. My husband Ron & I were on an airliner on the way to Israel with my rabbi & a group of about 28 others. It was my very first time traveling overseas. One week prior to leaving I had broken my left big toe in 4 places & was in a boot, on pain medication that barely took the edge off & found it impossible to get comfortable or sleep.
I decided to go talk to Judy Ludin who was still awake. We had met briefly at the airport. She was traveling with her father Ernest Drucker & when the 4 of us met, I knew that I had found someone very special who would have an impact on my life. I was about to learn how true my instincts were.
Judy & I easily joined in conversation & out of curiosity; I asked why her mom hadn’t joined them on the trip. Judy informed me that her mom was still recovering from surgery & treatment for ovarian cancer. My response was, “my baby sister died of ovarian cancer 3 years ago & my other sister has had a recurrence of it & it wasn’t looking good for her”. Judy’s immediate reply was “OMG Lita, have you been tested for the BRCA gene mutation?” Surprisingly, with all the cancer in my family & the fact that I had undergone a complete hysterectomy at 28, I was not aware of this mutation. Judy explained the connection of the mutation as it related to Ashkenazi Jews & urged me to get tested. She also gave me the website information for FORCE.
During our just over 12 days of touring Israel together, we got to know each other better & spent most of our time together. It was the trip of a lifetime, not only because we were celebrating our 50th anniversary but because of the impact of having met two people with whom I felt such a strong connection, two people I truly love & admire.
After returning home, I threw myself into the research mode online. I had some other health issues that I was dealing with aside from the broken toe & having to wear a boot for nearly 4 months.
In April of ’08, I consulted with a genetic counselor who decided that very day to draw my blood & send it off for testing. I didn’t get my results until July & learned that I was BRCA1. I was given a letter and recommendations to see an oncologist, breast surgeon & plastic surgeon. I consulted with all three over the next few months & decided that having a PBM with reconstruction was a no brainer. My gut told me that I had to do this to save my own life.
I also sent my lab analysis & letters from my genetic counselor & my oncologist to every one of my first degree relatives. My daughter was tested & found to be BRCA1 and has chosen surveillance for now. She is under the care of my oncologist & is taking tamoxifen as a preventative. She just isn’t ready to move forward with surgery at this time.
My two sons have not been tested yet but they keep telling me they will get it done. Initially, the boys were not supportive of my decision to have surgery & one even told me I was crazy for doing something so radical. They realize now that I made the right decision.
My niece Teri Smieja was also found to be BRCA1 as is her mom, my sister. Teri’s story is well known among the BRCA community. She is an amazing young woman who has changed so many lives.
I would have moved forward quicker with my surgery but I was also trying to schedule surgery on my back & felt that it was imperative that I do that first so I would not have to deal with the pain of both. I had a double lumbar fusion in January of 2009. My recovery went well & I soon went back to the other doctors & got everything in place for my PBM which was done on May 22, 2009.
I had decided to go with expanders & implants. Things didn’t go so well & I subsequently had two reconstructions with implants & finally on March 1, 2010, had a third reconstruction, tram flap procedure done. I healed well this time & I’m scheduled for my revision on July 14th. The revision will be my 6th surgery related to the PBM & recon but even at my age, 68, I feel that all I have been through was worth it just to be on the other side of this mutation that puts people like me at such high risk for cancers.
After my hysterectomy over 40 years ago, my surgeon informed me that he saved my life because my ovaries, tubes, uterus & cervix were pre-cancerous. He told me that I would not have been around to raise my 3 babies had I not had the surgery. In May of ’09 when I went for my post-op appointment after the PBM, my surgeon handed me my pathology report & proceeded to explain it to me. Simply put, my left breast was one stage from breast cancer. I had once again dodged a huge bullet! Thank you Judy Ludin! From the bottom of my heart, I’ll be forever grateful to you for saving my life.
Over the past 2 ½ years since that “fateful” trip, Judy has said to me on several occasions “don’t forget about FORCE”. I occasionally browsed the website, read the newsletters & appreciated the work that was being done. But! It wasn’t until attending the 2010 conference last weekend that FORCE became a force in my life. I had no idea of the magnitude of what Sue Friedman had created for people like us & the far reaching effects it has had & will continue to have on the BRCA community. I extend my love & gratitude to you Sue & to your amazing staff for the dedication, hard work & yes, sincere love that you extend to all of us. I hope that I can help in some way.