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Cancer Survivor Story - Lauren Ritchey

Lauren Ritchey, 47, thought she’d be the type of survivor who would constantly worry and stress about cancer coming back, but she’s surprised herself. Not that it didn’t work for the self-proclaimed “control freak” to get to that point, but she was able to minimize the worry by staying focused throughout her journey.

Years before a breast cancer diagnosis, at 29, Lauren learned she was a carrier of the BRCA2 gene (BReast CAncer gene 2). BRCA1 and BRCA2 are sometimes called tumor suppressor genes because when they have certain changes or mutations, cancer can develop. The risk of developing breast cancer is drastically increased for those who inherit the harmful variant of the gene – anywhere from 45-69%. (There’s also an increased risk – 11-17% of ovarian cancer.) It was unexpected, scary news but Lauren said instead of worrying about all the statistics, she focused on her call to action, which was getting an annual mammogram and breast MRI to make sure no cancer was developing.

Her focus shifted to starting a family, and after having her two daughters, Lauren began to revisit the possibility of having a double mastectomy around age 37. For women who carry a BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene mutation, having a mastectomy – removing one or both breasts – may be recommended and can reduce the risk of developing breast cancer by 95%.

Around the same time, Lauren’s twin brother had been diagnosed with colon cancer, and his surgery happened to be on the same day her annual mammogram and breast MRI were scheduled. There was nothing suspicious on the mammogram, but the MRI detected tiny cellular changes that prompted doctors to perform a biopsy. It was invasive ductal carcinoma, the most common form of breast cancer, which in its earliest stages often shows no symptoms.

Lauren remembers how hard those first two weeks after diagnosis were, but she focused on learning everything she could about her options, because “knowledge can soothe us even if it’s not good news.”

The cancer was caught very early, but because of the BRAC 2 gene, she knew it was time to have a mastectomy. But she would need six rounds of chemotherapy, too, which was devastating news. There were so many things to worry about, but Lauren remembers focusing on the task at hand – for example, getting through each treatment one by one – and on the tangible things right in front of her.

Enter two young children who didn’t understand what she was going through, or that she was tired or sick or sad. She tried to be happy in the beautiful moments that even everyday life brought with her daughters, choosing the “right nows” instead of the “what ifs.”

Now on the other side of her diagnosis and cancer-free, Lauren feels like her cancer journey was a small blip of time in the big picture and that it doesn’t define her. Her focus now is the future for her girls, who will need to be tested for the BRCA2 gene when they’re older, and on taking care of herself while she keeps living life to the fullest.

Click here to learn more about cancer care at Baton Rouge General Pennington Cancer Center.