Courage Against Cancer

Ginger Burton, ARNP-C and Michelle Bartlett team up to beat the odds.

At age 38, Michelle Bartlett was doing everything she’d been told to screen for breast cancer.  Starting at the young age of 25, when her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer, Bartlett underwent yearly mammogram screenings in hopes of being proactive about her health. So, when Ginger Burton, ARNP-C, a Women’s Health Nurse Practitioner for Health First Medical Group in Melbourne told her about the importance of assessing for Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer Syndrome (HBOC), she was floored. “How come I had never been told about this before?” she asked.

Recent media attention to the BRACAnalysis and the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 mutations can be attributed to one particular celebrity. Actress Angelina Jolie underwent a double mastectomy and wrote an op-ed piece in the New York Times which brought to light a wealth of information on BRACAnalysis testing. Jolie’s revelations led many women to ask themselves: “What is my risk for developing cancer?” and “Is there something more that I could be doing to protect myself from this horrific disease?” And for women who do receive a cancer diagnosis, oftentimes they ask: “Could I have done something
to prevent it?”

The awareness of BRCA mutations, along with medical treatment options, are empowering tools for women. “Find a physician who will listen to you,” advises Bartlett. “Find out what is available to you and be proactive about your health.”

THE POWER OF KNOWLEDGE

Ginger Burton, ARNP-C understands the power of knowledge. “Many people ask me how I learned so much about the topic – my response is always the same. When you have a young mother such as yourself sitting across from you making life and death decisions, you quickly learn how to help them change their outcome, which was the case of the very first test I submitted.”

Burton believes that every patient who meets NCCN (National Cancer Coalition Network) guidelines for testing should be counseled and offered the test. That is why when Bartlett revealed her mother’s history of breast cancer to Burton, Burton recommended that she undergo BRACAnalysis testing.

Bartlett’s Myriad genetics test result revealed what Burton explains as, “a ‘deleterious’ result, a harmful mutation of the BRCA 1 gene.”

As a mutation carrier, this left Bartlett with a lifetime risk of breast cancer up to 87 percent and ovarian cancer risk up to 44 percent. But, Bartlett had options that could change her high risk.

Like Angelina Jolie, Bartlett bravely chose to undergo a bilateral radical mastectomy and reconstruction as a preventative measure. Along with Burton, her team of providers included a general surgeon, plastic surgeon and medical oncologist, as well as a gastroenterologist.

Now, Bartlett is waiting to undergo the removal of her ovaries in the next year. “I know I escaped something big,” says Bartlett when speaking about this experience. “I have never looked back at this decision with regret.”

Bartlett wants other women to understand that not everybody who has a BRCA mutation has to undergo prophylactic surgery. “There are other surveillance methods,” she says. “I continue to do screening blood work to include tumor markers, as well as ultrasounds of my ovaries every six months. The very best option against cancer is early detection.”

EDUCATE YOURSELF

Burton also wants readers to understand that there are many fallacies circulating throughout the news media. She once heard said: “She doesn’t carry the BRCA gene.” But, Burton explains that “We all have two sets of the BRCA 1 and 2 genes. One set from our mom and one set from our dad. This is exactly why the paternal side matters just as much as the maternal side. These genes are the ‘tumor suppressor’ genes, so if we inherit a mutation or damaged gene, we lack the protection to repair the cancerous cells that arise in the breast and ovaries.”

By sharing her story, Bartlett hopes to spark courage in those looking to be proactive about their health. “Just because you carry the mutation, doesn’t mean you have to be left defenseless.  Educate yourself and have faith.”

Ginger Burton, ARNP-C is a nurse practitioner for Health First Medical Group in Melbourne focusing on women’s wellness issues with a strong attention to adolescent care and infertility. For more information, call (321) 725-4500 ext. 2229 or visit HealthFirstMedicalGroup.org

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