This is a story about hope. This is a story about prevention. This is Mel’s story.
It was in 2010 when Mel lost her sister to cancer. A few years later, Mel lost her mother to ovarian cancer. It was after her mother’s passing that Mel and her sisters learned that genetic testing could tell them more about their own risks to develop cancer. “We never knew that this test was available to us,” Mel recalls.
In fact, this test is not available to everyone. Many women who have a family history of ovarian cancer do not qualify for genetic testing through their provincial health plan. That’s why the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre developed the Prevent Ovarian Cancer Program (POCP). Through this program, women in Ontario whose first-degree-relative (mother, sister, daughter) was diagnosed with ovarian cancer can have genetic testing to learn about their own cancer risks.
“We never knew that this test was available to us,” Mel recalls. “This was the best decision I’ve ever made.”
Mel got in touch with the POCP. “This group is incredible. They help you through the decision process. They present all the options for you. Once my decision was made, it did not take long for things to start rolling.”
Mel’s genetic testing results found a mutation in the BRCA1 gene which increases her risk of develop breast and ovarian cancer. Thinking back on her decision to have genetic testing Mel says: “This was the best thing I’ve ever made. All appointments were set-up for the counsellor, surgeon and plastic surgeon. My decision was to have a complete hysterectomy and double mastectomy.”
Thankfully, Mel’s sisters learned that they did not inherit this mutation. Mel chose prevention. When people ask why Mel opted for surgery, she has a quick response: “For peace of mind. I do not want to wake up every day for the rest of my life thinking, Is this the day I’m going to get cancer? Ovarian cancer has no symptoms by the time you find out you have it, it’s too late.” Without this program, Mel would have been living with a 40% chance of developing this deadly cancer and not known about it.
Do You Qualify?
Genetic counselling and genetic testing will be available to 500 women living in Ontario who have a first degree relative (mother, sister, and daughter) with a confirmed diagnosis of a specific type of ovarian cancer called high-grade serous ovarian cancer (HGSC). Many of these women do not currently qualify for genetic testing through the Ontario Ministry of Health. Visit the POCP website to review the criteria and steps involved in participating in this program.
About the POCP
Up to 20% of ovarian cancers are passed down through family members. This means that women with a family history of ovarian cancer may be at increased risk of developing the disease themselves. If a woman is at high risk for developing ovarian cancer, there are steps she can take to reduce her risk. The POCP’s mission is to find these women by offering genetic testing that would not otherwise be available under the current Ontario Ministry of Health genetic testing guidelines.
*Opinions expressed are those of the author, and not necessarily those of Parent Life Network or their partners.