It was the long history of breast and ovarian cancer in Deb Improta’s family – her mother, aunts, cousins and sister all died from the diseases – that prompted her to get genetic testing. The simple blood test revealed that she carries the BRCA genes that make her more likely than other women to have breast and ovarian cancer.
“I opted to have my ovaries removed as a precaution, and they found a cancer cell on my fallopian tube. I went in eight months later and had my uterus taken out,” Deb remembers of her original surgery several years ago. She adds that she opted not to follow up with treatments, figuring the risk was gone. “I lasted five years with that and then I started to have some pain in my abdomen, like in the center, the peritoneum.”
Repeated CT scans and other more invasive tests at Women & Infants Hospital could not pinpoint the source of Deb’s pain even as the hormone markers signaling ovarian cancer soared. A gynecologic oncologist with the Program in Women’s Oncology did exploratory surgery on Deb using one of the hospital’s surgical robots and removed the cancer cells from her peritoneum and vaginal cuff. She followed that with six rounds of chemotherapy.
“I thought I was doomed when I was diagnosed. I said, ‘This is it, it’s my turn to die now,’” she says, recalling her sister’s death at the age of 42. “You don’t hear too many success stories about ovarian cancer, at least I don’t in my family because they all resulted in death. It kind of scared the pants off of me.”
With her ordeal behind her, Deb now says she focuses on the things that make her happy, specifically spending time with her two daughters and camping in New Hampshire. She also urges the other females in her family to be tested for the BRCA mutations.
“You just have to fight,” she says simply. “Life is wonderful!”