When Elizabeth White’s mother passed away from ovarian cancer in 2006, it changed the entire course of her young life. Though just a junior in college at the time, Elizabeth dedicated herself to cancer advocacy, and worked for various ovarian cancer associations over the forthcoming years. But in 2017, cancer rocked her life yet again.
White had just become the new executive director of the Michigan Ovarian Cancer Alliance, and she was tasked with promoting the then-new MAGENTA (Making GENetic Testing Accessible) study — a clinical trial conducted by the Ovarian Cancer Dream Team co-funded by the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance and National Ovarian Cancer Coalition.
When she learned about the ease of this ground-breaking research, Elizabeth knew the time had some to do something that had been in the back of her mind for years: Get genetic testing for cancer risk mutations.
“If it weren’t for the ease of this testing, I probably still wouldn’t have done it,” she says. “I knew the stats, I knew my mom died from it and I still didn’t make the time for me. But this made it so easy, why wouldn’t you get tested?”
After filling out the online questionnaire, Elizabeth talked to a genetic counselor, was mailed the saliva kit provided by Color Genomics, and returned the test by standard mail. No in-person counseling or on-site testing appointments required.
But despite her mother’s cancer history, Elizabeth was still shocked when he got the results: She had the BRCA 2 genetic mutation, and with it a 75 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 20 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. With taking care of her husband and young daughter in mind, Elizabeth knew what she had to do next.
She ultimately opted to have a double mastectomy, and she’ll have her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed in the near future. Through it all, she’s learned the power and purpose of self-care and the immense value of being proactive with her health.
“I’m just so much more appreciative and grateful, this study has changed my life,” she says. “It also makes me so appreciative of science, knowing I could do this, and it makes you look at different aspects of your life. If I’m not taking care of myself, maybe I won’t be there for my daughter, for those important life milestones. It makes you slow down.”
Today, Elizabeth has taken her own advice and continues to prioritize her self-care. She has stepped away from full-time work in cancer advocacy and is enjoying her new career as a meeting planner, though she makes time every week to do consulting work with the Ovarian Cancer Research Alliance.
“It was tough decision for me,” she says, “working in the cancer world was my way to help my mom, but self-care has made me more appreciative of my health and my knowledge.”
“If you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t help anyone else.”