Welcome to our live Q&A with Annie Parker, the woman and three-time cancer survivor who inspired the film Decoding Annie Parker, starring Samantha Morton and Helen Hunt. The film shows the parallel stories of Annie, who lost both her mother and sister to breast cancer before developing it herself and Marie-Claire King, the brilliant geneticist who after fifteen years of research discovered the genetic link to certain types of breast and ovarian cancer, considered one of the most important scientific discoveries of the 20th Century. The film is playing in select theaters and is also available On Demand—you can find out more about it here.
We've asked Annie a few questions to get the ball rolling:
What do you hope this film can do for women struggling with cancer, or even women in general?
Because I was born into a "family of cancer" it is my hope that this film will get the dialogue going at the general practitioner/family physician level. If people and this includes men think they have a history of cancer in their family they need to start the chatter!
You have survived cancer three times, which is remarkable. How did your outlook change with each diagnosis?
The stage of each cancer played an important part on my outlook through all my cancers. I was 29 years of age when I was first diagnosed with Stage 1 infiltrating ductal carcinoma of the left breast. After losing my mother and sister to what I believed was our inescapable destiny at the young age of 29 I was obsessed with the fact that I would be the next woman in my family to be identified with breast cancer and I was. I was relieved in some ways that I got it early and could move on with my life. I almost felt fortunate because with regular self breast examinations I had caught the lump in the early stages and dealt with it.
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That wasn't the case with my ovarian cancer 8 years later.
By the time it was caught it was Stage III and there is only 4 stages. I was angry and felt that my doctors didn't pay enough attention to the signs and symptoms or take enough information on my family pedigree. To this day, ovarian cancer is generally in late stages by the time it's detected. In fairness to the medical profession early stages of ovarian cancer most often cause no symptoms. I fought hard through 10 months of gruelling chemotherapy. But I wasn't going to let this hideous disease get the best of me, I wasn't going to let it win.
2005 – I was told I had a tumour behind my liver. It wasn't liver cancer but it was attached itself to my liver so I had to have a small portion of my liver removed. The liver has a remarkable ability to regenerate itself so my liver is fine today. My oncologist called this cancer an "unknown primary" which means given the fact that I carry the BRCA 1 gene mutation but the medical profession isn't sure where it started they give it the name "unknown primary". This cancer made me nervous but I was still angry lol. I was very sick when I took my chemo treatment for my ovarian cancer and I was worried about how I was going to feel during another 10 months of treatment. I was pleasantly surprised how far they had come with managing side effects from chemotherapy. This time I could actually maintain a normal life style or almost. I could go back to work because my nausea was controlled with medicine.
Cancer has affected your life since you were 13, so you have a very special insight into various developments in cancer research and general perception for 40 years. What are some of the biggest changes you have noticed in how we perceive and deal with cancer and the women who suffer from it?
It is my belief that people still hear the word cancer and they immediately think death. This is not the case, and I'm proof of that. People today have so much more knowledge or if they don't have it they can certainly get it through social media etc. Being informed means making intelligent choices about their health with the help of their doctors of course. There are far more solutions today then there was 25-30 years ago. Look at Angelina Jolie, she could quite possibly live to see her kids married and watch her grandkids grow up based on the decisions she made about her health. These are decisions I didn't have the good fortune of making.
Now we're turning Q&A over to the readers. Ask away!
The discussion is now closed, but thank you to everyone who participated, and thank you to Annie Parker!
Image via Getty.