Hancock County

Sisters with BRCA 2 gene host Hancock barrel run for breast cancer awareness

COURTESY PHOTOSisters Leora Pittman, Hope Ladner, Tabatha Smith and April Ladner tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene that dramatically increased their risk for breast cancer. Two sisters, Hope Lander and Tabatha Smith, had breast cancer.
COURTESY PHOTOSisters Leora Pittman, Hope Ladner, Tabatha Smith and April Ladner tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene that dramatically increased their risk for breast cancer. Two sisters, Hope Lander and Tabatha Smith, had breast cancer.

HANCOCK COUNTY -- To her three sisters, Hope Ladner is a hero, although she doesn't see it that way.

In May 2013, Ladner, 43, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Doctors told her the cancer was already in its second stage, and she began chemotherapy immediately to keep it from spreading.

Today, Ladner is cancer free, but the road to recovery wasn't always easy.

Ladner said her port, a device implanted to receive chemo treatments easily, got infected at one point and she had to stay in the hospital. When she lost her hair, her youngest sister, April Ladner, shaved it for her.

But Hope said she never got sick.

"I was strong and everything. I had a real good family behind me to support me," Hope Ladner said.

Hope doesn't like the word hero, but her older sister, Tabatha Smith, calls her that anyway.

"This is how I feel about it. If she had not been through what she went through, we wouldn't have known to get tested," Smith, 48, said.

Hope and April Ladner, Smith, and sister Leora Pittman, all of the Necaise community in Hancock County, tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene. Pittman said the gene increases their risk of getting breast cancer to 87 percent. The chance to get ovarian cancer increases to 27 percent, she said.

When Hope found a lump in her breast and went to Ochsner Hospital in New Orleans and was eventually diagnosed, medical professionals asked the sisters if they had ever been tested for BRCA.

BRCA 1, which spikes the risk of ovarian cancer, is what led actress Angelina Jolie to have surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes. According to ABC News, it was a preventative measure and put Jolie into early menopause.

"We didn't know what they were talking about," Pittman said. "We didn't have a clue."

The four sat down with a genetic specialist who asked them to trace cancer in their family lineage.

"We noticed right away that on the paternal side, in every generation the men had prostate cancer," Pittman said.

And many of the women had breast cancer.

"Our grandmother died of a reoccurrence of breast cancer," Smith said. She had thyroid cancer and breast cancer. When it came back 17 years later, the cancer had spread to her chest wall and lungs.

Hope took the test first since she was already diagnosed. It came back positive. Then, Leora took it. It came back positive as well. April and Tabatha were finally convinced to do it as well, and both tests were positive.

The women are half-sisters, and share the same father.

"Our daddy always had a bad heart ... in the end he came down with prostate cancer," Smith said. "We never knew there was any kind of link between prostate cancer and breast cancer.

"I always thought breast cancer genetics came from the maternal side, but that's not true."

The sisters became very proactive after they found out they had the BRCA 2 gene. They received mammograms every six months and remind other women to be checked as well.

On Aug. 11, Tabatha was also diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I didn't feel a lump. Mine was so small," she said. "Women, get your mammograms."

Tabatha had a double mastectomy, and pathology results after surgery showed no invasive cancer.

"It didn't get outside the duct. It didn't go into any tissue of lymph nodes," she said. "That's why early detection saved me from a whole lot of extensive stuff like chemo."

On Sunday, the sisters are hosting a barrel race at the Hancock County area. Entrance into the race is free, but there will be a silent auction for donated items and a concession open with jambalaya plates.

Racers will also pay an entry fee.

This year, the money will go to Smith to help pay for medical expenses.

"We definitely want to do it annually and next year we will send the funds to a family in need (of financial assistance) of someone with breast cancer or any other cancer," April Ladner said.

April Ladner said the reason for the barrel race is "to support someone who is going through what our family has went through."

The event starts at 10 a.m., and there will be a cowboy church service at 12 p.m. The barrel run starts at 2 p.m.

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