When 57-year-old Leslie Seigel was diagnosed with an aggressive form of stage I breast cancer, she didn’t know that the genetic mutation that was causing her cancer would also cause her son to get cancer.
Leslie was no stranger to dealing with cancer. Her mother had died of the disease at just 49 years old. When Leslie was diagnosed with cancer for the first time in the 1980s, she was just 21. She conquered her cancer and then did it all over again when she was diagnosed a second time at the age of 29, shortly after giving birth to her daughter.
“I mentioned it to my doctors and was ignored,” she recalls. “They said, ‘You’re too young to have breast cancer,’ but because of my mother’s history, I insisted. When I had a biopsy, they learned my cancer was stage 2. I had chemo, radiation and a lumpectomy.”
Leslie knew her third round of cancer wasn’t going to be a walk in the park, but she knew she could conquer it. The doctors were very optimistic that with the right treatment, including chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, she could be cured. Soon after the entrepreneur and businesswoman finished her chemotherapy regimen, however, her 31-year-old son, Josh, was diagnosed with testicular cancer.
For Leslie, dealing with Josh’s diagnosis was worse than her own. “If I could’ve taken the hit for him, I would have,” she says.
The first symptom Josh had with his cancer was pain, so it was difficult for him to get a proper diagnosis at first, because pain is not a typical symptom of cancer. His doctor initially sent him home with antibiotics for what they thought was an infection. A second opinion, however, resulted in a testicular cancer diagnosis, followed by surgery and two rounds of chemotherapy.
“Testicular cancer is one of the most curable forms of cancer that exists,” Josh says. “Treatment wasn’t easy, but I never felt in fear for my life.”
Later, the two learned that both of their cancers were influenced by the BRCA1 gene mutation that they’d both inherited. This particular mutation increases the risk of breast, ovarian, and pancreatic cancers in women, as well as prostate, pancreatic, and other types of cancer in men.
Luckily, having cancer at the same time helped Leslie and Josh bond in a new way. Josh had already met many of the nurses who treated his mother before they treated him, and Leslie was able to offer him first-hand experiences and advice to help him through his treatment. These two survivors are lucky to have been able to lean on each other!
Leslie’s daughter is now 29 years old and exploring preventative options to protect herself from breast and ovarian cancer. Thanks to her mother and brother’s story, she may never have to go through the same battle.
Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?