Sister's Death Helped Her Make a Wrenching Choice

Sasa Woodruff had to choose whether to live with a high risk of cancer or remove stomach
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 13, 2021 8:00 AM CST
A Genetic 'Hiccup' Left Her With a Wrenching Decision
   (Getty/peterschrieber media)

It was just a "hiccup in my genetic code," writes Sasa Woodruff at NPR. But that hiccup left her with a wrenching choice: Should she live with a high risk of cancer or have her entire stomach removed? In the first-person account, Woodruff explains that genetic screening—done because of her family's history of cancer—revealed that she had a genetic mutation known as CDH1. Women with the mutation have a 56% to 83% chance of gastric cancer, in addition to an increased risk for breast cancer, she writes. Screens showed no sign of disease in Woodruff's stomach, but that wasn't much comfort. The gastric cancer is difficult to detect until too late, when patients usually are given just months to live. Woodruff lived with the knowledge of her mutation for two years, before deciding to have the preventative surgery in October.

"I couldn't think of a more draconian sentence than losing it—especially for me," Woodruff, of Slovakian ancestry, writes of her stomach. "Some of my first memories are sneaking olives from the fridge and licking egg beaters clean from whipped cream and cake batter." But one factor was the recent death of her sister from pancreatic cancer. "In the wake of pandemic and the grief of loss, opting for surgery is an embrace of life," she writes. Woodruff should be able to resume eating the foods she loves in a year, albeit in small portions and with a "lot of chewing." Without a stomach, the food she eats will go directly from her esophagus to the small intestine; it will be a daily battle to get enough calories and hydration, and to fend off vitamin deficiencies. (Read the full story.)

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