I didn’t want to die in my young sixties. Not a single woman in my family at least 4 generations back has lived past 61, including my mom, Joy, who died 13 years ago today. Her sister died 2 years before of the same disease: ovarian cancer.
My mom fought 7 hard years after her diagnosis of stage 3 ovarian cancer. Oncologists hate this cancer — it is unpredictable and hard to treat relative to most cancers. The survival rate 5 years after diagnosis is 45% verses 89% for breast cancer.
It was February 2004 and my mom’s health took a turn, but she was still fighting and wanted to live. We showed up at the doctor’s office and he wanted to take her blood and casually said, “I have one genetic testing kit left,” and he asked my mom if should we test to see if she was BRCA positive. “Your 3 daughters and granddaughter should probably find out,” the doctor said.
My mom died the next morning.
That doctor called me a few weeks later and confirmed that my mother had the BRCA1 mutation which translates to a 55–65% chance of breast cancer and 39% chance of ovarian cancer. He said, “come on into the office and let’s see if you are positive.”
I did test positive. I am the only one out of my sisters and cousins to test positive for the defect. I became singularly focused on laying out a course of action and minimizing my risk of developing the cancer. I wanted to watch my daughters grow up. A hysterectomy, oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) and mastectomy would drastically minimize my risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. For me, I didn’t question the path forward after watching my mom and aunt die. I didn’t want to be a walking time bomb.
There was just one problem. Though I had one daughter from my first marriage, I had gotten remarried and wanted to have another child. It became a race between having that child and moving forward with those surgeries. In addition I had just been promoted to be the CEO of Match so my career was all consuming.
I did end up having a second daughter and then moved forward with the mastectomy. After another year, I went through the hysterectomy. These surgeries were much harder on my body than expected.
People ask me all of the time if it was hard dealing with all of these issues and keeping up with a demanding career. I felt lucky in that regard. My boss was supportive — he even put pressure on me when I was going to delay the surgeries saying he needed me alive. His best friend’s wife went through the same surgeries. I never for a minute felt guilty or embarrassed and he completely stepped up over those weeks to fill in the gaps in my absence; so did the rest of the executive team. I know that doesn’t always happen and for that I was grateful.
By far this was the biggest challenge I have had in my life. The advice I would give other women is check early, check often. This is a disease we can fight. And when my daughters are old enough, I will encourage them to take the BRCA test since they have a 50% chance of having the mutation. They can use the medical information available to them to make their own decisions.
Above my desk I have a print-out of the most recent cancer marker blood test which I take every year as a precaution. It has come back negative every year. I feel like I have bought myself decades with my husband, daughters and family that my mom and aunt didn’t have.
Mandy Ginsberg is the CEO of Match Group North America. She lives in Dallas with her husband and younger daughter. Her older daughter is currently a freshman at Northwestern University.
Originally published at medium.com