#happylife: Local cancer survivor says learning about her genes saved her life

Dawn Mattinson feels lucky she is finally back on the other side of the exam table.

Mattinson, a nurse practitioner with Multicare Rockwood, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007.

At the time, Mattinson was 42 and raising her four kids all under the age of 18. She immediately turned to an oncologist within the Multicare Rockwood provider network who thought she was young for such an aggressive cancer diagnosis and recommended she go for genetic testing.

“It came back that I was BRCA 2 positive,” said Mattinson.

BRCA is an abbreviation for breast cancer gene. We all have it, but a mutation means a woman has a much higher chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.

Mattinson went through chemo, radiation and surgeries to remove her reproductive organs and then got a clean bill of health.

“Everything was going great till 2015. My oncologist said, ‘We are starting to screen people in families like yours. Usually with pancreatic cancer, they are getting it older than you are, but maybe we should start to screen you.’ So we did, and we found out I had pancreatic cancer,” said Mattinson.

She credits Dr. Kirk Lund with saving her life, twice.

“I’m here because I had an amazing oncologist that was on top of his game – still is!” Mattinson said.

Dr. Lund said he has treated over 1,000 patients for breast cancer and is always trying to find the latest information, trials and treatments to give his patients the best chance for recovery.

“Families who have these genes and people who have these genes have a higher risk of cancer. Breast cancer is the most common and best-known, but there are other kinds of cancer that are increased in these families,” explained Dr. Kirk Lund, oncologist for Multicare Rockwood.

Studies have shown the gene mutation is now also linked to melanoma, pancreatic and prostate cancer — making it a concern for both women and men — something Mattinson is all too familiar with.

“My dad’s brother was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and he’d already had prostate cancer,” said Mattinson.

The BRCA mutation can impact you whether it is present on your mom’s side or your dad’s side.

So what can you do now?

“By far the most important step people can take is to be evaluated and put under the care of someone who understands the genetic aspects of these very, very well,” said Dr. Lund.

Mattinson’s two daughters have already been tested.

“They are both negative, my two. But my sons have not been tested,” she said.

Those tests are coming — Mattinson will make sure of it and so will Dr. Lund.

“I always tell him, you know you saved my life. And potentially you know, I have one cousin and two sisters who’ve tested positive. You know, he’s potentially saved their lives.”

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#happylife: Local cancer survivor says learning about her genes saved her life