Mueller was at high risk for breast cancer so chose to have a
It was a
lightening rod when Angelina Jolie wrote, "My Medical
Choice," about her decision to have a preventative double
mastectomy. The article was published in The New York Times and the
phones started ringing off the hook at the Wauwatosa office of Dr.
Hanadi Bu-Ali, a breast cancer surgeon with Wheaton Franciscan Medical
Group. "It was crazy. Everyone wanted to get tested for the gene,
even some people without high risk for breast cancer. The positive
thing was that the article got peopleís attention."
she wrote the article because it did get more awareness out
there," says 53-year-old Ruth Mueller of Richfield, "but it
was old news to me." Mueller had lived with the trauma of high
risk when the subject of breast cancer was taboo and had a bilateral
prophylactic mastectomy years ago. What she and Jolie have in common
is the breast cancer gene. BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 are variants of the
breast cancer gene that increases your lifetime risk of ovarian cancer
by as much as 40 percent and breast cancer by as much as 80 percent.
Mueller was a
preteen when she lost her mom to breast cancer. Her grandmother and an
aunt on her momís side died from the disease too. "Mom died in
1973. Nobody talked about breast cancer back then so we didnít think
about family risk." It hit her like a ton of bricks three decades
later, when one of her six sisters fought and lost an agonizing battle
with the disease. "It was so difficult to watch her struggle. I
knew I never wanted to go through anything like that."
So Mueller got
genetic counseling. When she tested positive for the breast cancer
gene, something snapped. "I cried in the doctorís office. Iím
not even sure why. I knew I had to do something. I had my ovaries
removed right away but I wasnít able to accept losing my breasts. I
wasnít ready to make that decision."
She pushed the
risk to the back of her mind, got regular checkups and promised
herself that her breasts would go if one more sister was diagnosed. In
2009 it happened. Another sister was diagnosed and Mueller scheduled
her mastectomy. "By that time I had come to terms with it. I had
reconstructive surgery right after the mastectomy. I knew it wouldnít
be as traumatic to wake up and know I had something there."
Instead of using implants, Muellerís new breasts were fashioned from
her own abdominal muscle and tissue. Other reconstruction advances
include skin- and nipple-sparing surgery. By federal law, insurance
companies should cover the cost of breast reconstruction if there is a
medical reason for having a mastectomy.
plastic surgeon Dr. Philip Sonderman counsels women about their
choices. "Nothing is perfect. The recovery can take up to two
months. There is going to be scarring. The breast skin will be numb.
At the same time most women are extremely satisfied with the results
and comfortable going in. They can view before and after pictures
online and after the surgery they can wear a bathing suit or low-cut
dress and look and feel whole and feminine."
There is a flag
for genetic counseling if you have a first degree relative with breast
cancer who was diagnosed under the age of 50, any family member with
male breast cancer, a first degree relative with ovarian cancer, a
strong family history of colon, prostate or pancreatic cancer, or if
you are a breast or ovarian cancer patient who is under the age of 45.
with the breast cancer gene choose to have the surgery," Bu-Ali
says. "You might think they would be paralyzed by fear but
interestingly itís just the opposite. They want to be
proactive." Mueller has turned the tables on breast cancer. Her
lifetime risk is now reduced to between 5 and 10 percent and her big
dream for the future focuses on celebrating life. "I guess Iíd
like to be a grandma one day."
takes a stand against cancer
After a routine physical in 2004, Major League Baseball
Commissioner and North Shore resident Bud Selig was heading out
the door when his doctor noticed a suspicious blemish on Seligís
forehead. At his suggestion, Selig consulted a dermatologist.
few days, Selig had a diagnosis of Stage 4 melanoma.
was in shock," says Selig, who says he has never been a
underwent surgery to remove the lesion and a biopsy later
revealed he was cancer-free.
relieved, Selig also felt compelled to warn others about the
dangers of skin cancer. Major League Baseball seemed like the
perfect public platform. Then during a dinner engagement in
January 2008, Selig encountered several prominent Hollywood
executives who were starting a new initiative called Stand Up 2
Cancer, which focuses on accelerating cancer research to get
innovative therapies to patients faster.
wifeís urging, Selig appealed to MLB club owners and when
Stand Up 2 Cancer officially launched later that year, all 30
teams pledged $10 million to the organization.
a privilege for me and Major League Baseball to join this
magnificent effort," Selig says.
later Selig continues to rally Major League Baseballís
involvement in the fight against cancer. To date, the
professional sports group has donated more than $30 million to
the cause. In 2012, MLB dedicated Game One of the World Series
to Stand Up 2 Cancer.