The little voice inside me was whispering, "Something isn't right..."

My name is Theresa Smith, and I grew up in beautiful Laguna Niguel, CA. I am part of a large, loving family where many members have been affected by hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. I plan to share with you my experiences and hope, which may help you on your journey. My stories and experiences may be very similar to what you are going through. I wish I had somewhere to turn to help me navigate this tumultuous road.

I can actually say that I had an ideal childhood (how many of us can say this?). My parents loved each other, I had a sister and brother, and I was the oldest. I was loved, life was good. I went off to college at San Diego State University, and met my husband. I was married at 19 years old, and had 3 kids by the time I was 27 years old. Looking back I think, "Why would I get married so young?" But now I can see that this was part of God's plan for my family - so my children would be loved by their grand parents just as I was, if not only for a short time.

Things changed when my mom Charlotte became sick, very sick, but we didn't know why. Vague symptoms: stomach problems, urinary issues, bloating, weird funny pains. I think we've all seen that our mothers can overreact, right? So we went to many doctors - nothing, tests were all clear.

Then one day she felt so bad she walked into the ER. She was thinking, "Something is really wrong with me, but I don't know what!" She was diagnosed that day in the ER with Stage 4 ovarian (peritoneal) cancer. She had ultrasounds, ovaries that looked good, no strange bleeding, no bladder cancer, no colon cancer, no stomach cancer... nothing. Until they ran a CA-125 blood test that showed her numbers were through the roof! There was a lot of fluid accumulating by this time in her abdomen, which finally tipped off a possible cause. By this time the disease was so advanced there was not much hope floating around.

She had her hysterectomy, and her doctor said it looked good with no tumors, but it was in the peritoneum (the lining of the abdominal cavity). She then started her many courses of chemotherapy cocktails. It helped a little at first, but then it didn't. She was gone in less than a year.

Unfortunately for our family, this was not the first time we had bad news in the ER. Just 4 years earlier my father Michael, at 59 years old, was diagnosed with metastatic melanoma all through his brain after he became confused at an airport on a business trip. The doctor walked in, popped a film up on the light box, and there were all these dark spots all over his brain. How could this happen? He was gone in less than 3 months.

So my family had already been through a tragic loss, which was especially difficult for my mother. Losing her husband of 30 years broke her heart. So we went through the grief, the financial loss of income for my mom, the loneliness, anger, and depression. Just when I felt my head was above water, it started all over again with my mom! It felt surreal - why was this happening to my family, to me?

Things were rough in my personal life, too. I went through a divorce after my dad died, so I was now a single mom of three children: 2 daughters (2 & 5 years old), and son (8 years old). My parents were foster parents for the County of Orange for over 20 years, having almost 100 babies through our home. They adopted another daughter when she was a baby, and she was now in high school. She was now my responsibility, so now I had four traumatized kids to care for, completely alone in my own grief.

I couldn't believe my parents both died in their fifties. Were we living on a toxic dump site? Was Dad exposed to chemicals at work? It seemed like something was very wrong, but I didn't know what it could be. My maternal grandma Frances died at only 55 years old. She died of a heart attack, but battled severe colon cancer in her early fifties. I remember how hard it was for my mom to lose her mom, they were so close. I remember her crying and grieving such a huge loss.

My mom and I were very close too. We lived near each other, and she helped me through my divorce. She watched my kids for me every day as I worked as a real estate agent as the sole support for my family! She loved my kids so much, spoiling them, tea parties on the grass and reading to them. We had dinner together in the evening; my dad was gone, so it was just us. My children's father was absent and offered little emotional or financial support, and now they had no grandparents either. Who would take care of them if something happened to me? So I took out a substantial life insurance policy for my children, just in case.

I was not tested for mutations in the BRCA genes until almost 10 years later. Why? No one suggested or recommended it. Even though all my doctors knew my family history, it was never mentioned. I suffered with endometriosis my entire life. I was tired of the pain and the laser surgeries. So I was considering an early hysterectomy to put an end to the pain. Ovarian cancer itself is very rare, so I wasn't that worried. I heard of the BRCA test, but there was only one case of breast cancer(my mom's aunt), from many years ago. This side of the family was large, over a hundred relatives. So I thought, "Surely there would be more cancer history if we had a mutated BRCA gene? "

I took the test as a tie breaker, to see if I should go ahead with my early hysterectomy. I was only 44 years old, no signs of menopause yet. I was young to have a complete hysterectomy, so I waited for my results, just in case...



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