Local grandmother of 7 saved her life by undergoing genetic testingHARRISBURG, PA -
A vibrant and active grandmother, Leslie Vogel is tireless in her commitment to educating and supporting cancer patients and their families. She knows a lot about it. In the 1970s, Leslie lost both of her parents to cancer. They were 58 and 59 years old. But she didn’t know a lot about it then – because at that time, people “barely said the word ‘cancer,’ they really didn’t talk about it.” As an only child, throughout her life and career as a dental hygienist, Leslie really wished she had been able to be there for them and provide support.
Fast forward to 1996 when Leslie herself was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. At the time there was no known history of ovarian or breast cancer. She underwent treatment and survived but was so moved by her experience that she began working at the center that treated her in the year 2000.
In her role in patient and community relations for the women’s cancer center, Leslie offered education and support to patients and their families. And it was through her work at the center that she, along with her colleagues, first learned of the availability of genetic testing and began to explore the possibility of developing a referral program for the center.
In 2003 Leslie noticed some abnormalities in her own breast. She raised the issue with her physician during her annual exam but it was suggested that a watchful approach would be appropriate for what was likely to be an age-related papilloma. She relayed her concerns to a radiologist colleague in conjunction with her ovarian cancer history and within two weeks, Leslie was diagnosed with breast cancer facing a surgery decision.
Simultaneously Leslie had been working with a geneticist as part of her work-related role in establishing a genetic testing referral program. She requested to be the center’s first referral because she wanted to go through the process they were recommending to patients. Leslie submitted a sample for genetic testing, but due to urgent timing had to schedule her surgery prior to receiving results. Leslie underwent a bilateral mastectomy, and physicians found cancer in both breasts.
Although Leslie knows her case was different from situations patients face today because of the quick timing, she mentioned a feeling of confirmation or validation in receiving her positive results. She vocalizes feedback from patients that she counsels, noting that many express a sense of relief in knowing that the cancer did not develop through any actions of their own, that it was passed through a genetic mutation. And for Leslie, the test answered some lingering questions. Looking back at her mother’s cancer experience, she feels certain that her mother had ovarian cancer.
An advocate for testing, Leslie views the information as a gift that we give our children and notes knowing they are NOT a carrier can be as powerful for patients as knowing that they are. She talks about a word she learned from Myriad - “previvor” – and talks about the huge impact in helping identify someone at risk, catching the cancer early or preventing it from happening. For Leslie, it’s all about community. Her story is hers and the story of all the women she meets.
Leslie is a 65-year-old “wife, mom, stepmom, grandmother of seven and soon to be eight by virtue of a new marriage.” She worked as a dental hygienist for 30 years but could not continue in that profession due to physical issues unrelated to cancer. Since 2000 she has worked at the “gyn onc” practice that treated her for ovarian cancer. In her job she raises awareness and provides support to patients and their families. Additionally she volunteers at the American Cancer Society supporting patients and families with a range of cancers “listening and giving back honesty.” Leslie golfs in her free time.
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