Arlene Carpenter's Story
Because of Women's College Hospital, Arlene lived to be a grandmother.
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When Arlene Carpenter was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000 at age 46, her first thought was that she would not live to be a grandmother. A number of close relatives had passed away from various forms of cancer over the years, including her own grandmother at age 52 from ovarian cancer, leaving Arlene with little hope for her future. Although she received life-saving treatment at a Toronto-area hospital, she constantly feared the disease would return.
Seven years after she was first diagnosed, Arlene heard about the work taking place at Women’s College Hospital to test women for an inherited gene mutation, BRCA 1/2, which significantly increases the risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Recognizing the prevalence of the disease in her family, Arlene made the courageous decision to undergo testing.
“I was scared, but I knew I had to do it for my family,” she says. “I have a big family, and I knew it would impact all of them if I tested positive. But I also knew that understanding the risk could help us take action that would save our lives.”
Arlene was shocked to learn that she carried the gene mutation. She urged other family members to undergo testing at WCH, and many of them tested positive for the BRCA gene as well.
In addition to the world-leading research and screening taking place at WCH, the hospital is also a pioneer of innovative treatments and surgeries that virtually eliminate a woman’s risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Knowing that her risk of recurring breast cancer and ovarian cancer was high as a BRCA carrier, Arlene decided to undergo life-saving treatment.
A preventive hysterectomy revealed that Arlene was already in the early stages of ovarian cancer. Following treatment, further screening at WCH showed the re-development of breast cancer. Her sister, who had also tested positive for BRCA, had already elected to have a double mastectomy to stop the development of the disease before it could begin. Drawing strength from her sister’s courage, Arlene underwent a double mastectomy as well and, several years later, breast reconstruction.
Arlene and her sister both took enormous comfort in knowing the treatment they received at Women’s College Hospital was world-leading.
“We know when we come here that it’s the latest in research and treatment,” says Arlene.
“We feel safe and confident knowing how incredible the team is here, not to mention how extraordinarily kind and compassionate they all are, and that the work taking place at WCH is truly cutting-edge.
"We want the best because we want to live.”
Today, Arlene is a proud grandmother of six and says she has no reason to believe she won’t one day be a great-grandmother as well. She has become a passionate advocate for the research and care available at WCH, and is a strong support to her family members who are considering getting tested and receiving preventive treatment. Arlene is also committed to helping the hospital continue saving lives by donating in honour of the program that gave her back her future.
“If I hadn’t been tested and received treatment at Women’s College, I would be dead today,” Arlene reflects. “I trust that we’re receiving the best healthcare at WCH, and I take comfort knowing it’s here to save future generations of my family.”
Learn more about the world-leading cancer research and clinical work at Women's College Hospital that saved Arlene's life.