49-year-old Washington twins share battle with breast cancer

A pair of middle-age twins in Vancouver, Wash., are sharing their battle with breast cancer and hope their story can help inspire other individuals to maintain hope for a cure.

The Columbian reported that 49-year-old Mary Sullivan and her twin sister, Meg Perlick, not only share a birthday, their looks and some of the same hobbies, but about four years ago both learned they had another thing in common: breast cancer.

“We never thought breast cancer ran in the family,” Mary told the Columbian.

Mary was 44 when she felt a lump in her right breast while showering. She underwent a mastectomy as well as two months of chemotherapy, 10 weeks of daily radiation and a year of medication.

“My cancer was pretty aggressive,” Mary told the Clark County, Wash., newspaper.

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At age 45, Meg decided to get evaluated for potential breast cancer despite not feeling any lumps in her breast. The Columbian reported that Meg was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2011— which required two lumpectomies and finally a mastectomy of her left breast. The twin also suffered a life-threatening reaction to chemotherapy one week into treatment, and then doctors removed her colon, which was at risk of perforating. Doctors eventually put her on a lower dose of a different chemotherapy drug and administered radiation.

While the prevalence of cancer among twins varies, scientists know it’s not a given that if one twin receives a diagnosis then the other will as well. A July 2005 study published in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, for example, suggested those differences between twins— like cancer diagnoses— result from changes in genes, or epigenetics, which stem from chemical exposure, environmental factors and dietary habits.

While Mary and Meg’s grandmother and mother had breast cancer, neither of the twins had a BRCA gene mutation, which is associated with an increased chance of ovarian and breast cancers.

Following their cancer treatment, Mary and Meg will continue to take medication for 10 years and have checkups with their doctors every six months.

The Columbian reported that today, the twins have returned to their active lifestyles and joined a Portland dragon boat team, Pink Phoenix, for breast cancer survivors. The team competes in about eight events annually.

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“There is light at the end of the tunnel, and you have to know that,” Meg told the newspaper.

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