Our Voices: A Blog by Links, Callers and Volunteers

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Tuesday, January 4, 2011

How Continued Surveillance Saved My Life

By: Sally Cotlar, Sharsheret Peer Supporter

I had just turned 6 when my mother died of breast cancer at the age of 35. Breast cancer has always been part of my universe. I even had my first mammogram when I was only 23 years-old. It wasn't until many years later that I found out that I was also at risk for ovarian cancer.

After doing some family research and learning that my maternal great-grandmother died of breast cancer at the age of 51, I decided to undergo genetic testing. I tested positive for the BRCA1 mutation. Although I was disappointed with the result, I wasn’t surprised because my mother was so young when she had cancer, but my geneticist thought I would be negative. When I asked her why, she said, "because you have not had cancer yet”. Over the next weeks and months, the impact of learning that I carried the mutation increasingly weighed heavily on me. I was concerned about my future as well as those of my three children, who each have a 50% chance of inheriting the mutation. Over the years I have learned to accept the possibilities and I try to be as proactive as possible.

I had a prophylactic oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) and removal of my fallopian tubes. I was happy to not have to worry about developing ovarian cancer. Two years later, I was feeling great and decided that it was time to have a prophylactic mastectomy. I really wasn't looking forward to the surgery, but thought I would be relieved to not have to worry about breast cancer as well. During my pre-operative physical, my doctor found a large, hard lymph node in my inguinal canal (the crease between the leg and hip). It was diagnosed as primary peritoneal cancer, which is essentially ovarian cancer. I couldn’t believe I had cancer because I felt so good and had what I thought would be preventative surgery. Unfortunately, prophylactic oophorectomies don't prevent ovarian cancer 100% of the time because the lining of the peritoneal cavity, where the ovaries sit, is similar to the lining of the ovaries.

I have been in remission since 2003 and I have never had breast cancer or a mastectomy, although I am again considering the mastectomy. What I've learned from having cancer is that it is life-changing. It’s as if you have entered into another world, a world filled with new terms, doctors, tests, scans, and often, surgery and chemotherapy. On a positive note, there is also a new community you have become part of. I have met so many wonderful people who have enriched my life and made me a stronger and better person. Joining Sharsheret and speaking with a Peer Supporter can help unravel the mysteries involved with ovarian cancer. I look forward to serving as a Sharsheret Peer Supporter and speaking with those touched by ovarian cancer so that I can share the hope and knowledge that I was blessed to receive during my cancer journey.


  1. your brave and proactive communication provides encouragement to practice healthful habits and responsible pursuit of annual examinations. Particularly for those diagnosed, your heartfelt wisdom offers realistic perspective along with hope and vigor in the battle of life, hope, and a plan for significant living. Your honesty socially and morally connects those in treatment, as many lack a supportive base to cheer them forward. You are a Blessing and may good health brighten your way and allow you to continue your very personal service.

  2. I'm glad you found this inspirational. I hope others do as well.