HUDSONVILLE, Mich. (WZZM) - It's a cancer that often goes undiagnosed until it's almost too late. Each year 15,000 women will die from ovarian cancer.
If you have a history of ovarian cancer in your family, it's likely you carry the BRCA1 gene mutation. The same gene used to detect your chances of breast cancer can also detect your chances of ovarian cancer. If you have it, you have an increased chance of developing ovarian cancer by 50 percent.
One West Michigan family has eight women with the gene and now their taking the necessary steps to protect their daughters.
"I can still see her taking the pies out of the oven and cookies." Her family photos are the only reminders Linda Verburg has of her mother, "And the ring-around-the-rosey pictures in the kitchen back on the west side."
She died when Linda was just 11 years old from ovarian cancer.
"I didn't know how to deal with that. It's like she died, the door was closed and nobody talked about her again." Little did Linda realize that nearly 40 years later, she would die of the same type of cancer.
"I went to go to the bathroom and when I urinated I felt a pain underneath my belly button and it was slight," recalls Verburg.
But Linda's intuition told her it was more and a visit to her doctor proved she was right. He discovered not one but five ovarian tumors.
A series a treatments put Linda into remission, but that wasn't enough for her doctor. "He says d'o you have sisters?' And yes, and he goes well you all need to have genetic testing."
Linda's family history included a grandmother and a sister who died of breast cancer, and of course her mother's ovarian cancer. That made it almost certain they carried the BRCA1 gene that puts women at a 50% risk of ovarian cancer and an 80% risk of breast cancer.
The genetic testing confirmed it, but not before her sister June was also diagnosed with ovarian cancer. "I thought it's not going to happen to me. Everybody else but me." says June.
And it was enough to convince Linda, June, and their sister Nancy to have prophylactic double mastectomies to prevent breast cancer.
But unfortunately, it was too late for Linda.
"There is nothing more that they can really do for me, how long I have left they really don't know." Her cancer returned to form tumors on her kidney, liver and pelvis and it's terminal.
Monthly rounds of chemo are keeping her alive but for how long, she doesn't know.
So she is preparing her family for a life without her. "I am trying to do things for my kids that I think they would like. Make DVD's and wrap gifts for their monumental birthdays."
Linda knows her young daughter will grow up as she did, with only pictures for memories, and the possibility of carrying the BRCA1 gene. But she won't have to have the same fate as her mother and grandmother.
Dr. Ebony Hoskins, a gynecological oncologist with Saint Mary's Health Care agrees genetic testing is saving lives. "There are some families that have breast and ovarian cancer that do not test positive and the thought may be there is a gene we don't know about it yet. So we still encourage genetic testing."
Thanks to science, Linda's daughter and her granddaughter will have the chance to live long, full lives.
Linda's sister June has three daughters. One has already tested positive for the BRCA1 gene, the other two still have yet to get genetic testing.