Life Assurance: Woman with family history of cancer takes control of her fate
(WVUE) - Chontel Carter Frank may have more years with her children, thanks to advances in science. She lost a loved one to cancer and was determined to change her fate.
"I knew this would be something I'd have to deal with in my life. So, I knew I had to be proactive to stop it in my life," she said.
Constance Carter was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2003. It was surprising because she did all the right things.
"She didn't smoke, didn't drink, went to church, " Chontel said. "She was in love with my father, the only person she'd been with her whole life."
The cancer was diagnosed as stage three, and Constance Carter underwent surgery to have a hysterectomy and remove the tumor. She started chemo. In 2004 her mom's sister was diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.
Chontel began to wonder if heredity was a factor.
"In my research I learned that the BRCA 1 and BRCA2 is present in everyone, men and women. But, if you have a mutation in that gene, it makes us susceptible to cancer."
"Breast Cancer Associated one and Breast Cancer Associated two, the first ones identified with hereditary cancer," said LSU Department of Genetics Chairman Dr. Lucio Miele
"They are the good guys. They're called tumor suppressors," Miele said. "They're genes that are prevent tumors they keep fixing up DNA. When they are broken, there's no more maintence and it's easier for dna to accumlate damage that leads to cancer."
Chontel needed to know if she was at risk
"I went to my OBGYN, Dr. Rebecca Perrett, and told her my story," she said.
Dr. Perrett told her any relative with ovarian cancer at any age is a red flag.
"Her mother's sister is a second-degree relative who had premenopausal breast Cancer. and her mother's sisiter a second degree relative had pre- menapausal breast cancer. The two of them obviously were a flag that there might be a hereditary component to it," Perrett said.
Chontel was worried, but doctor Perrett put any plan of genetic testing on hold until she finished having children.
When Chontel was married in 2007, her mother's cancer had returned. Constance Carter delayed treatments to be there for her daughter. She remembered her mother's words that day.
"She told me, 'I was looking at you knowing I wouldn't be able to look at you much longer, that's why I was crying so much.'"
Her mother passed away in September of 2008.
"She had watched her mother succumb. Having children she wanted to be proactive, being around for them as they grow up and seeing grandbabies," Dr. Perrett said.
In August of 2017, two months after birth of her second son, Chontel underwent genetic testing for the BRCA gene mutations.
"When I got those results it was definitive results," Chontel said. "I got this gene and this positive mutation meant I had an 85 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer."
She said she cried immediately, but knew it was time to conquer her fears.
Her husband Russell Jamal Frank remembers.
"You do want to put your faith in God, but you want to use your intellect and brain to say, this is what God put before me so we could make a sound decision," he said.
By October she had begun the first of two surgeries. A hysterectomy and then removal of the breast tissue with reconstruction.
Doctors worked as a team on surgeries to break a chain of cancer in her family and to make her whole again. Chontel was given a chance her mother never had.
"She didn't know anything about the gene," Chontel said. "My mom was never tested for BRCA. She was prayerful and believed in the Lord and had faith and I was covered. In a way she was protecting me through her faith through her knowledge I could take the necessary steps to get this done to get the blood work and now I can live."
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