A positive twist: Confronting my cancer heritage

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120927lindaspositivetwist.JPGBy Linda Yarger

Linda Yarger is a senior librarian in The Learning Center and has worked at MD Anderson 16 years.

At one time cancer was a dark cloud hanging over my future. Now, my past is what gives me motivation to fight cancer however I can.

From the time I was a teenager, cancer has been part of my life. My mom developed ovarian cancer then, and she died in 1961 at the end of my freshman year in college.

Back then, cancer was not talked about as freely as it is now. For a long time my sister and I did not know why my mom was sick. My Aunt Helen had breast cancer at the same time, in both breasts. When her cancer spread to the bone, we were told she had very bad arthritis. Eventually, we learned that both my mom and my aunt had cancer.

I always wondered if I would get cancer, too. Was there anything I could do to prevent cancer? Whenever possible, I tried to live a healthy lifestyle. When I gardened, I gardened organically. I also avoided using chemicals for housekeeping or insect control.

In spite of my precautions, I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 46.

My response was to dig in and learn as much as I could about treatment and the genetics of ovarian and breast cancer. Before being diagnosed with cancer, I had worked as both a public and school librarian. After my treatment ended, I wanted to be involved with medical librarianship, so I volunteered at MD Anderson's Research Medical Library.

Personable and professional journeys merge

After a while, my personal journey and my professional journey became intertwined. I became a librarian for The Learning Center, first working in the Main Building and then in the Mays Clinic.

I purchased books on a wide variety of cancer and health topics. Often, I was so interested in what I purchased that I would read the books, especially the ones on ovarian and breast cancer.

I was "walking the other side of the street" also: I was continuing to have appointments at MD Anderson as a high-risk patient. Because of my family cancer history, I had regular tests for ovarian and breast cancer.

Eventually, I was tested for BRCA1/2. Last spring, on the advice of my oncologist, I had my ovaries removed (an oophorectomy) as a preventive measure.

Rewards of my profession
As a librarian and patient educator, I enjoy interacting with patients and providing them with materials to help them understand their cancer better. My job has enabled me to give my dark cancer heritage a positive twist.

Fighting cancer can be uplifting and can build camaraderie. I like that MD Anderson has a quilt auction every two years to support gynecological cancer research. I've volunteered as a "quilt sitter," and I've purchased quilts as gifts. I find it deeply rewarding to give a present that benefits research.

I'm also proud that MD Anderson hosts the "Sprint for Life" each spring. This race/walk benefits ovarian cancer research.  

Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month

September is Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month, and I believe that all women should be aware of the signs and symptoms of ovarian cancer. Women with a family history of ovarian cancer or breast cancer may want to learn if there is anything they can do to prevent these diseases.

If you think you have a genetic disposition toward breast or ovarian cancer, I recommend the following resources. (You can check out the books at The Learning Center in the Mays Clinic.)
Or to learn more about breast and ovarian cancer:

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