Forty years ago, a 19-year-old figure skater became a pop-culture icon overnight when she won gold at the 1976 Winter Olympics.
Known for her signature bob hairstyle and fierce determination, Dorothy Hamill’s sudden rise to fame left her feeling invincible. But her biggest challenge was yet to come.
In 2007, a routine mammogram revealed she was suffering from breast cancer.
“It’s a devastating diagnosis and one thinks it’s a death sentence, and the great news is it’s not anymore – most often not, if you get it early enough,” Hamill told FoxNews.com’s senior managing health editor, Dr. Manny Alvarez, in an interview.
Hamill was diagnosed with stage 2 hormone receptor-positive (ER+) breast cancer, which is the most common kind. About two out of every three breast cancer diagnoses are ER+, according to the American Cancer Society, with most cases being receptive to both estrogen and progesterone.
Hamill underwent surgery to remove the tumor and radiation therapy to kill any cancerous tissue that was not removed during surgery. And while she was grateful that her treatment was a success, she was not prepared for the long road ahead which included years of anti-estrogen medication to reduce her risk of the cancer coming back.
Hamill tried various medications, but was ultimately put on Tamoxifen, an anti-estrogen medication that works by prohibiting estrogen from binding to estrogen receptors in breast cancer cells.
Tamoxifen, and other anti-estrogen drugs have many side effects, which can include blood clots, stroke, cataracts, bone loss, depression, loss of libido, fatigue, cardiac problems and even cancer. For Hamill, constant fatigue, stiff, achy joints and the risk for developing secondary health problems from the medication left her drained on a daily basis.
At the time, the standard course of treatment with Tamoxifen had, for the majority of patients, been five years. But new research that emerged while Hamill was on the drug revealed many patients may actually need to be on it for 10 years. Hamill’s doctor suspected she was one of them.
“My doctor told me that I would need to be on for another five years which was disappointing, and so I did some research,” Hamill said.
In remission and ready to get her active lifestyle back, Hamill found a test designed to measure the likelihood of the cancer returning as well as the risk-to-benefit ratio for patients on extended anti-estrogen therapy beyond five years. The Breast Cancer Index test, created by BioTheranostics, Inc., is FDA approved and meant for patients in remission who are on extended anti-estrogen therapy. It measures the gene expression of the original tumor using a tissue sample saved from surgery.
“I discussed it with my doctor, and … we both decided that I would go off of the Tamoxifen, and I’m feeling better all the time,” Hamill said. “I’m very lucky that so far, so good.”
Now, Hamill has teamed up with the company for a new campaign called BeWisER+ About Breast Cancer, aimed at educating survivors of the disease to improve their quality of life after winning the breast cancer battle.
For more information, visit BeWiserAboutBreastCancer.org.