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Young Mom Taps into Her DNA for Healthcare Decision-Making

Wednesday, July 28, 2021 11:01 AM

When Sacha Gordon learned that she carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation she remembers feeling empowered.

Pregnant with her first child and living in London at the time, the DNA test result was not a total surprise based on Gordon’s family history. Her mother carries the same BRCA1 mutation and has survived two bouts of breast cancer and a serious battle with ovarian cancer.

“Knowing that I was becoming a mother, I felt I needed to be proactive about my health for the sake of my family” recalled Gordon.

Sacha Gordon

Taking Action
When Gordon and her husband moved back to the U.S. and settled in Glencoe near where she grew up, she quickly scheduled appointments with the exact same experts on her mom’s NorthShore Kellogg Cancer Center care team: Surgical Oncologist David Winchester, MD, and Gynecologic Oncologist Gustavo Rodriguez, MD.

Gordon talked with each physician about her pre-emptive options, including stepped-up breast screening surveillance. Following the birth of her third child—a son, Gordon then made up her mind to take proactive steps to keep her heightened cancer risk in check: a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy in 2018, followed by hysterectomy and oophorectomy, or removal of her ovaries, in January 2020.

In making her decision to have these pre-emptive surgeries, Gordon reflected on watching her mother go through chemotherapy and literally fight for her life through ovarian cancer. “I didn’t want to sit around and wait for a cancer diagnosis,” she explained. “I’ve been liberated! The control and power feels awesome.”

Understanding "Previvorship"
Gordon counts herself among a growing group of “previvors” individuals who have a predisposition to cancer but who have not yet had the disease. This includes people with an inherited genetic mutation or a family history of cancer that defines them as high risk.

Gordon wanted to share her story in the hopes of encouraging other women with a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer or suspected genetic mutations to consider getting genetic testing through NorthShore’s Neaman Center for Personalized Medicine. “By understanding your unique genetic risk, you can change the course of your life,” she emphasized.

Through the Neaman Center, and NorthShore’s unique Advanced Primary Care approach, patients like Gordon have access to the latest, most comprehensive genetic testing panels along with a team of specialists and genetic counselors. Together, the patient and care team evaluate screening and treatment options aimed at early detection and elimination of cancer risk.

Personalized Options, Evolving Therapies
“This is a life-changing opportunity for people,” said Dr. Winchester. “You have to personalize care for each patient by making sure they have a clear picture of their options, and outlining what to expect in terms of lifetime risk.”

Genetic testing also can help physicians develop better, individualized treatment based on knowledge of the molecular alterations in the tumor cells of patients with cancer.

“So much progress has been made in recent years,” said Dr. Rodriguez. “We continue to open doors to new exciting therapies, which are providing dramatically better results in terms of cancer survival.”

Drs. Rodriguez and Winchester, who hold academic appointments at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, both emphasized the importance of collaborative and personalized care, and the benefit of a wide range of expertise at NorthShore for patients like Gordon.

“Thanks to the blessing of knowing what I was up against and the great team of physicians at NorthShore, I no longer have to fear my future. I feel very fortunate and grateful,” added Gordon.