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Health

Surviving .. against all odds

 A doctor wears a stethoscope (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

 A doctor wears a stethoscope (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images) less

DENVER - More patients will die from pancreatic cancer than breast cancer in this next year.

In addition, pancreatic cancer deaths are on the rise while the rates of death in other major cancers are declining.

These recent statistics from the American Cancer Society are not surprising to Kathryn Haber of Denver.

Haber has lost her father (2003), brother (2014) and mother (2015) to pancreatic cancer. Her sister died of breast cancer in 2004.  

Kathryn Haber was not exempt from personally dealing with cancer. She was diagnosed with lymphoma in 2007.

"I hear the concern and love from people who can't believe how much our family has dealt with," Haber said. "I am able to process through all the loss because I have a deep faith that my sister, father, brother and mother are together now surrounded by love. I didn't always have this faith but it has developed over time. I feel truly blessed to have it.  I couldn't imagine the loss without it."

Haber is convinced that there is a reason she is the only one to have survived cancer. She needs to share her story to educate and help others going through illness and loss.

Haber says her father, mother and brother who all died of pancreatic cancer carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation.  The mutated version of BRCA 1 can lead to breast, ovarian and prostate cancers as well as colon and pancreatic cancers.

When Haber's sister was diagnosed with breast cancer, Haber decided to have genetic testing.  She knew the statistics.

According to the National Cancer Institute,  55-65% of women who inherit the BRCA1 mutation will develop breast cancer.  39% of women with the BRCA1 mutation will develop ovarian cancer.

"I was 32 years old and my dad was still alive and I remember telling him about the genetic testing," Haber said. "He questioned whether I really wanted this information and what I would do with it."

Haber tested positive for the mutation of BRCA1 and planned to have prophylactic surgeries.  

What she hadn't prepared for was finding a lump in her groin when her twin boys were only 7 months old.

Haber was diagnosed with non-Hodgkin's lymphoma in October 2007.

After three rounds of chemotherapy and radiation, Haber had a double mastectomy and oophorectomy to stop the threat of breast and ovarian cancers tied to the BRCA1 gene mutation. 

There is currently no evidence of cancer.

However, the threat of pancreatic cancer still looms. 

"When you have close family members diagnosed with pancreatic cancer, your odds of developing pancreatic cancer yourself increase by 57 percent," Haber said.  

Haber is committed to having regular screenings  but doesn't dwell on cancer.

"I could go through life worrying about my cancer returning or developing pancreatic, but what good would that do," Haber said. "I honestly feel blessed with all that I have in my life rather than thinking about all of the loss I've experienced and the threat of a future cancer diagnosis." 

Symptoms of pancreatic cancer include fatigue, weight loss, dark urine, jaundice skin/eyes and back pain.

Aside from taking care of her own health, Haber is active in local organizations that are focused on the fight against cancer.

Haber is now on the board of Wings of Hope for Pancreatic Cancer Research. The nonprofit foundation increases awareness to the disease and raises funds for pancreatic cancer research and programs at the University of Colorado Cancer Center.

Haber is also a member of FORCE: Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.  The organization supports those with inherited cancers associated with the BRAC1 mutation.

Haber has started a blog called "Cancer Silver Linings" which will be the title of her memoir. 

"I believe I am meant to do a lot more on this earth to help others," Haber said. 

Copyright 2016 KUSA


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