By: Ingrid Kolstoe
I am another woman in my family that has Ovarian cancer. My grandmother Lois died of Ovarian cancer in 1971. From what everyone can remember, she was diagnosed with cancer in the summer of 1970. She went in for surgery where it was discovered that she had extensive disease. It has been told that she was given a very short amount of time to live. In 1970, debulking surgery was just beginning to enter as the standard of care. Other treatments such as carbol/taxol didn’t become a standard until after 1976. She had no options. She was sent home by the hospital and by Christmas of that year, she went back in, which would begin her end of life. She was given no treatment and no surgery. She died in March 1971 at the age of 48.
I was in my early 40’s when I was diagnosed with Low Grade Serous Ovarian Cancer. Being the descendant of Ovarian Cancer death already, it was disheartening to learn I had it too. I have never had any symptoms and went into the doctor for what I believed to be a torn abdominal muscle near my c-section scar. At my doctor’s visit for my torn muscle, they discovered that I had a cyst around my ovary the size of a grapefruit. We decided that I would have laparoscopic surgery to remove the cyst and to have a hysterectomy because I was done having children. My doctor who was not skilled in debulking surgery, was caught off guard by the cancer findings, and consequently, like my grandmother, I was not optimally debulked. I was given chemotherapy as frontline therapy, even though this cancer is thought to be chemo resistant. Many doctors have never seen this type of Ovarian Cancer and it has traditionally been treated like high-grade Ovarian Cancer. It was at this time that I was given a really great piece of advice. That advice was, “Don’t do anything else until you get a tumor test.” Tumor tests are a set of genetic tests that test the cancer for it’s unique genetic makeup. I sent my tumor to Foundation One. (Foundationmedicine.com) I got my Foundation One report and as with most Low Graders, seemed that there was nothing targetable in my tumors. What this really means is that the medications that they are linked with didn’t hit anything specifically. However, there is a page that they send to you and it says genes of unknown significance. This is the page that tells us the information that we need for my treatment. I also changed my doctors and went to the University of Colorado Cancer Center, where I now see an amazing Gynecological Oncologist, Doctor Jill Alldredge. She uses precision medicine to guide treatment decisions and is a master surgeon. The first thing she said was “We are doing surgery again and we are going to get all this cancer out.” I had a second debulking surgery this year with all visible cancer removed. Using My Cancer Genome, we have gone over all the mutations in my cancer and have a targeted medication arsenal for recurrence. (Mycancergenome.org) Right now, I am enjoying my remission period and getting back to life.
This Ovarian Cancer is not your grandmother’s cancer. While the symptoms of this disease are still the same and can be vague, the treatment options to women with the 30 different types of Ovarian Cancer are open and available with the use of tumor testing. Debulking surgery has become the gold standard of care, with targeted therapy right behind. Science is on our side if we can identify the biomarkers and mutations in each one of our tumors. My grandmother would be proud of the progress that is being made to help women live longer. Research for Ovarian Cancer is still under funded and our cancer counts as the #1 killer for gynecological cancers. With better treatment options, access to tumor testing and genetic testing, and top quality surgery, we can continue to prolong the lives of all women with Ovarian Cancer. I am hopeful with precision medicine that I will become a grandmother. A dream my own grandmother never got to realize. At least that is the goal.