MORRIS – Pam Simpson of Morris watched as her mother, Joyce Buttry, fought for her life at age 46 against breast cancer.
When her mother died after six years, a ticking time bomb started in Simpson’s head, one that got louder when she heard from her doctor that tests showed she had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer by age 50.
“Since my mom was diagnosed and died, I felt like every day I was waiting for it,” she said.
Simpson, who just turned 46, had a BRCA1 cancer screening test done that showed that, because of mutations, she had not only the 87 percent chance of breast cancer, but also a 54 percent chance of ovarian cancer, and a less than 50 percent chance of colon cancer.
According to cancer.gov: “BRCA1 and BRCA2 are human genes that produce tumor suppressor proteins. These proteins help repair damaged DNA and, therefore, play a role in ensuring the stability of the cell’s genetic material. When either of these genes is mutated, or altered, such that its protein product either is not made or does not function correctly, DNA damage may not be repaired properly. As a result, cells are more likely to develop additional genetic alterations that can lead to cancer.”
There are specific inherited mutations in BRCA1 and BRCA2 that can increase the risk of breast and ovarian cancers in females.
The harmful BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation can be inherited from a person’s mother or father.
“I didn’t know the test had been approved by my insurance, so when I went to see the doctor about other test results, I didn’t expect the results on the BRCA,” Simpson said. “When he told me the results, I asked, ‘Can we do this [surgery] today? I feel like a time bomb.’ But, of course, they couldn’t do it right away.”
She had her first surgery in November, during which she had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to fight against ovarian cancer.
In January, she had a mastectomy and removed all of her breast tissue to help prevent cancer.
“I watched my mom die and fight for six years,” Simpson said. “I didn’t want to spend my time fighting, versus living life doing what I want and need to do.”
She said she didn’t want to rob her husband and children of the time living, and she wanted to be a positive force.
As a local dance school owner, she knows how she faces life affects not only her family, but also the families of the more than 700 students who learn dance from her and her staff.
“One reason I wanted to share my story was to teach and inspire my students and families,” Simpson said. “I want them to see that even if you are faced with a difficult situation, a health issue or illness, life will go on and things will be OK. Your attitude in the situation makes a big difference. I often say, ‘Sometimes you need to make a little lemonade.’ ”
She said she encourages any woman with a history of breast cancer in her family to have the testing done. She also encourages all women to have mammograms and be vigilant so they catch it before it’s too late.
According to cancer.org, Breast cancer is the most common cancer among American women, except for skin cancers. About one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer during their lifetime.
“As women, we have many responsibilities and wear many hats and often neglect our own health,” Simpson said. “We find ourselves busy raising a family and building a career, so often our health goes on the back burner. My best advice is to take care of yourself and your health so you can be there for your family in the future. Make yourself a priority.”