Caren Mend

Posted:04/18/12

I come from a family with a strong history of breast, ovarian cancer and colon cancer. I spent my childhood and teenage years seeing aunts, uncles and my grandmother dying of this horrible disease. It was always a ghost in my nightmares.

I became a physician, after long years of study and hard work. I looked after myself with diligence and despite living in a South American country till I was 32 years old and not able to be submitted to a genetic test, I knew my family members and I had a high chance of carrying a genetic mutation. So, my physicians back home were very intuitive and I used to be screened as a high risk patient: mamogram every 6 months and endovaginal USG as well as ATTENTION, lots of ATTENTION and COMPASSION.

Well, things changed when I switched countries. Not assessing blame, but telling my story. Doctors here are followed by “guidelines” and long story short, I fell through the cracks, even being a doctor myself. After 2 years of intestinal bleeding, abdominal pain, and so many times talking about my family I decided to force a more invasive exam and finally a CT was done. On June 29 2007 (3 years after left my home country) I was 34 years old, married with a 3-year-old adopted daughter and diagnosed with advanced ovarian cancer 3c. I was submitted to surgery + 6 sessions of chemotherapy (3 intravenous and 3 intraperitoneal). Finally the doctors decided to do my genetic screening, which did not surprise me when it was positive for BRCA 1 mutation.

After this initial treatment I went into remission and decided to work part time and live my life to the fullest. In 2008, when ice skating with my daughter, after a silly fall I fractured my femur – and was diagnosed with osteoporosis. 6 weeks on crutches…very hard on me.

In 2009 I had my second recurrence and was put under 6 sessions of chemotherapy. Again bald…my self esteem was shattered. But I had 6-10 months of remission.

In 2010, again more recurrence, and I started a clinical trial with cyclophosphamide and parp inhibitor, which I’m in still nowadays. It doesn’t look so wonderful so far…but…let’s see…

Well, yes, I think I’m lucky to be alive…almost 5 years of survivorship…yes, I have to be grateful; yes, I try to eat well; yes, I try to exercise; yes, I try to do yoga, to do new and ludic things; I tried to paint, to play the piano, to drive power boats, you name it…but I think that being a survivor also brings some kind of reality hard to explain…maybe I’m not a very inspiring survivor, but my story is raw and real. I think the worst part is to navigate the health system after being a medical doctor so diligent and attentive with myself and with my patients, that is cruel. The feeling of having fallen into the cracks is also unberable some days…Anyway, there’s hope, there’s research, and let’s see if medicine can control this disease and I can see my daughter grow up and continue to enjoy my husband’s company.