Friday, June 21, 2013
Posted by D. Daniel Sokol
Next week we return to the University of Florida after a year at the University of Minnesota. The visit professionally and personally was very important. I had wonderful colleagues at the law school. The Dean, David Wippman, is great and sets a tone of intellectual rigor, competence, seriousness of purpose and civility. The culture reflects this tone at the top. Faculty members at the law school are smart and nice. There are dedicated scholars and teachers. My interactions with faculty at the Carlson School of Management and the Humphrey School of Public Affairs were also wonderful. At the University, there is a core group of faculty interested in antitrust law and economics. The antitrust practitioner community is vibrant and with over 20 Fortune 500 companies in the Twin Cities, I had many opportunities to get a very detailed understand of how companiesdeal with antitrust issues as part of their business strategy. The nights of -30F (cold enough that the difference between farenheight and celcius is minimal) were less wonderful but when you are inside, you don't feel the cold.
Most importantly regarding the visit, the medical care in Minnesota is world class. I want to share something very personal because I think if one falls within certain risk factors, genetic testing and the possibility of surgery is warranted. Early during our time in Minnesota, my wife was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene. Following the news of Angelina Jolie and her double mastectomy because of her BRCA1 gene, many now know the difficulty of having such genetic mutations. In short, you are a walking genetic time bomb. You have a lifetime risk of ovarian cancer of roughly 25-40% and a lifetime risk of breast cancer of 45-70% depending on which study you read, family factors, etc. In my wife's case, there has been a significant history of such cancers in her family (and indeed, the largest risk factor for BRCA2 is being an Ashkenazi Jewish woman). We saw many doctors around the country and all told us the same thing -- the recommended treatment was for a full hysterectomy followed by a double mastectomy. Detection is very bad for ovarian cancer. By the time ovarian cancer is detected, typically one has stage 3 cancer and life expectancy is typically another year or year and a half. Breast cancer detection rates are higher and detection often is at a much earlier stage.
Six weeks ago my wife had a full hysterectomy. The physical recovery is not easy. It is a major surgery, although now done via lathroscopic surgery, which is far less invasive and reduces the recovery time. During the six week recovery period, she could not lift our 17 month old daughter. For those of you who are parents, you can understand how emotionally painful this is. Within the next year or two, my wife will have a preventative double mastectomy. Overall, dealing with this diagnosis has been emotionally difficult for my wife and my entire family. Luckily, we have had tremendous support. My parents have been great throughout the process. They also came to help us for two weeks after the surgery. Our friends in Minneapolis also have been outstanding in providing emotional support. Again, I want to thank Dean Wippman. Within an hour of learning about my wife's diagnosis, he had us in touch with the Dean of the University of Minnesota Medical School. Getting us connected to the right doctors at the University and Mayo Clinic was very important and without help, we would have been lost. From this process, there is not a single study that we have not read about BRCA. Others around the world with whom we had shared our situation also provided us much support, whether emotional support or support through facilitating contact with a number of world class doctors for second opinions.
I share this information because I am proud of my wife. She wants to live a long time and be a part of my life and the lives of our three children. Taking prophylactic steps is not easy emotionally or physically, nor is it always easy to share information with others. Many people feel embarrased by their medical conditions. We want to reduce the stigma that people feel when they are sick and to let others who are not sick to know that most people who are dealing with difficult issues welcome a show of support.