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Local woman with family history of BRCA1 says genetic testing saved her life after ovarian cancer diagnosis

Posted at 6:46 AM, Sep 23, 2022
and last updated 2022-09-23 08:00:36-04

CLEVELAND — Cancer is no stranger to the Greller family. Collen Greller says the diagnosis amongst her family is where her health journey started.

“It all started 22 years ago and my aunt passed away of ovarian cancer. Fast forward to 2017 my sister was diagnosed with breast cancer,” Colleen Greller said. “Because of our family history, her doctors decided that she needed to be tested for genetic mutations specifically the BRCA one and two mutations.”

After Greller’s sister tested for BRCA one, her father received a positive test as well.

“I had my son in 2019 and after I had my son I decided that I should get tested so I went and got tested and I too, lucky me was also a BRCA one positive,” Greller said. “There’s a million questions in your head. Am I going to be okay? Am I going to be able to watch my son grow up? Am I going to make it through treatment?”

According to the Seidman Cancer Center, there’s a 72% lifetime risk of breast cancer for BRCA 1 mutation carriers. There’s also about a 44% chance they could develop ovarian cancer.

"Genetic risk factors are the strongest risk factors for these cancers,” said Dr. Kristine Zanotti, Gynecologic Oncology Disease Team Leader at the Seidman Cancer Center. “Those cancers spread quickly. The ovary is not a contained organ in the human pelvis, and those epithelial cells are at the surface of the organ. When it becomes cancerous, those cells spread quickly into the abdomen before a test ever becomes abnormal and easily can do so between the timeframe of two tests. So biologically, it's very, very difficult to capture this cancer before it spreads.”

However, Zanotti says some tests like pap smears can detect cervical cancers. Yet, there are no tests that can detect ovarian cancer unless detected early through genetic testing.

Greller explained, “because of the increased risk of ovarian cancer with BRCA mutation, my husband and I decided that we were happy with the little family that we had and we would move forward with an elective hysterectomy to rid my chances of ovarian cancer.”

She ended up scheduling the elective surgery with Zanotti. Though, it was originally canceled due to statewide mandates during the pandemic.

“I went for my two-week follow-up appointment and Dr. Zanotti walked in the room and said how are you? How are you feeling? I said I feel great…and as she said we have to talk about your pathology and I said what? She said we actually found stage one ovarian cancer in your pathology.”

After completing three rounds of chemo and two years on a chemotherapy drug, Greller says it was her family, Zanotti, and the genetic testing that saved her life. Now, she and her sister are helping other women through their non-profit, “KICK,” which means “knowledge is cancer’s kryptonite.”

“Fear can paralyze you, but I’m here today to bring such hopeful news to people that unfortunately have to hear this diagnosis that it’s not a death sentence…and I'm just so, so thankful that I was proactive about my health, that I got myself in there and that I did what I needed to do.”