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Understanding Your Family History of Cancer Can Help Save Your Life


Gastonia resident, Carolyn Niemeyer, decided early on to make it her life mission to give back to others, but when she was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago, she had to adjust to being on the receiving end as she fought her battle.

“When I received my breast cancer diagnosis, I was scared and unsure about my future,” said Niemeyer. “I have history of breast cancer and other cancers in my family, and I’ve seen the toll it takes on a person.”

Breast cancer traces back several generations in Carolyn’s family making her a candidate for genetic testing, now provided at CaroMont Cancer Center. Carolyn’s mother died of breast cancer at age 67 and her mother’s sisters were also diagnosed—one with breast and the other with ovarian cancer—and died in their 50s. In April 2013, Carolyn’s younger sister, 67 at the time, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

“There are various risk factors that cannot be changed, such as age, gender and family history,” said Ashley Migliaro, MS, CGC, Certified Genetic Counselor at CaroMont Health. "Women with close relatives who have been diagnosed with breast cancer may have a higher risk of developing the disease and having a first-degree relative (such as a mother, daughter or sister) diagnosed with breast cancer, nearly doubles a woman's risk. The risk may be higher if multiple close relatives have been diagnosed."

While there is no cure for cancer, cancer genetics studies hereditary and familial cancer that can aid in improving treatment options for those already diagnosed with cancer. It also serves as a guide in determining early prevention methods for those identified with an increased risk. While most cancers occur by chance, sometimes cancer develops as the result of a genetic predisposition that runs in their family. By identifying inherited cancer syndromes, at-risk individuals and their health care providers can implement targeted, individualized lifestyle modifications, screening recommendations, and preventive or therapeutic treatment options.

Niemeyer received her care at CaroMont Cancer Center where she says she was treated with dignity each time she came in for her radiation treatments.

“October 2015 marks my second anniversary being breast cancer free,” said Niemeyer. “Each clear mammogram is a joyous time. The thought of having a reoccurrence is always in the back of my mind, but I keep a watchful eye by performing self breast exams and receiving regular mammograms, both of which probably saved my life.”

A former nurse, Niemeyer understands the critical role a nurse has in caring for a patient during a vulnerable time such as cancer treatment. Niemeyer believes every woman deserves a chance at early diagnosis, which is why she is an advocate for early detection.

“Had I waited, I might not have had the same outcome,” she said. “Early diagnosis is the key. I encourage women to be diligent in self breast exams and if you have any doubt, seek medical advice immediately.”

Niemeyer also credits her survivorship to advanced cancer treatments that are available to patients and early diagnosis as compared to many years ago.

“Each day I shower and look at my surgical scar, I am reminded of how fortunate I have been to have a surgeon who believed me when I told him I had changes in my breast,” she said. “I am so grateful to have received excellent treatment and care at CaroMont Cancer Center right here in Gastonia from outstanding physicians and medical professionals who took the time to guide me through this journey.”

Categories: Health