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A Family Tree Riddled with Cancer

By Abby Sinnott, UCSF Medical Center | July 28, 2006

In the summer of 1993, when Elaine Taylor, a mother of three, was in the middle of pursuing a lifelong dream getting a college degree in English literature at the University of California, Berkeley she received some devastating news: she had advanced ovarian cancer and uterine cancer.

"All I knew, in July of 1993, was that I was 37-years-old and that it was quite likely I would not live to be 40," says Taylor, who has asked that a pseudonym be used to protect her family's identity. "The prognosis was not good. The statistics were not good, but I was way too young to die."

Taylor underwent 7.5 hours of surgery to remove two large tumors from her ovaries, all of her reproductive organs, cancerous lymph nodes in her abdomen and adhering to her abdominal aorta.

After surgery, during her recovery at home, before starting six months of chemotherapy, Taylor's older brother Jim came to visit. Taylor remembers that he said something puzzling, in a rather offhand way that would start her cancer detective work: "Everyone in our family gets cancer."

Taylor, who had not had any contact with her father or his family for many years, was shocked by the news. All she knew was that her father had died a few years earlier of colon cancer at age 59 and that his mother had died of cancer at the age of 40.


Read more at Abby Sinnott, UCSF Medical Center