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Family support, faith help mother, daughter endure cancer together

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Carol Fritts

AGE: 62

RESIDENCE: Columbus.

FAMILY: Husband, Orie, died in 2006; daughter, Dawn McGraw; sons, Joe, Kevin and Jeffrey Fritts; 8 grandchildren.

CANCER JOURNEY: Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and with ovarian cancer in 2009 and 2010.

Dawn McGraw

AGE: 37.

RESIDENCE: Indianapolis.

FAMILY: Husband, Mike; daughter, Kate; son, Joshua; brothers, Joe, Kevin and Jeffrey Fritts; mother, Carol Fritts.

CANCER JOURNEY: Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009.

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Mother and daughter Carol Fritts and Dawn McGraw went through a bonding experience they wish never would have happened.

Both were diagnosed with breast cancer, and they went through chemotherapy together in 2009.

Fritts also has spent the past two years fighting ovarian cancer.

“We lost our hair, eyebrows and eyelashes at the same time. Just too much togetherness for me,” said Fritts, as she talked at her Columbus home.

The shared experience was difficult for the women on many levels, including that they wanted to be there to support each other, but were struggling with their own illnesses.

Although Fritts and McGraw celebrated the end of chemotherapy with a party in September 2009, their medical journey has continued.

Ongoing fight

Fritts was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2001 and with ovarian cancer in 2009 and 2010.

McGraw, 37, who lives in Indianapolis with her husband, Mike, and their two children, spent about two years dealing with chemo, radiation and reconstruction surgery.

She also will have a hysterectomy this month after genetic testing, called BRCA Analysis, and blood tests showed she was at high risk for developing ovarian cancer.

This was the most difficult decision McGraw has had to face.

“I love being a mother, and I would love to have more children,” said McGraw, whose daughter, Kate, is 5 and son, Joshua, is 3.

What also is frightening for McGraw is that the results from the gene testing she and her mother went through was positive, meaning that her children have a high risk of cancer and should be tested once they reach their mid-20s.

McGraw’s daughter will be at risk of breast and ovarian cancer, and her son, breast and prostate cancers.

Help important

Despite the difficult times the mother and daughter have faced, Fritts and McGraw feel they are stronger people today because of what they’ve been through. They also learned to accept help, even though they wanted to help themselves.

“I realized how much people loved me,” said McGraw, a former second-grade teacher who now stays home with her children.

She said her husband was with her every step of the way, and her children loved her no matter how she looked or how sick she was.

McGraw was thankful for the many friends, family members and church friends who brought her meals, drove her to chemotherapy, helped with her children, cooked meals and sent flowers and cards.

Fritts has been thankful for her son, Kevin, who came to live with her after her husband died. He helps with her another son, Jeffrey, who has muscular dystrophy and also lives with her.

“I don’t know what I would have done if (Kevin) wasn’t here,” Fritts said.

Through all the challenges, the mother and daughter have faced the realities of their situations and armed themselves with information to help them make the best decisions possible.

In some cases, the facts and decisions have been heart wrenching.

“In ovarian, there is no cure. You just deal with it,” said Fritts, who feels lucky that she has had more energy recently to been able to spend time with her grandchildren.

Over the last two years, dealing with the disease has included days of complete exhaustion, pain and missing out on time with her family.

Fritts also has had to deal with other family and health matters, including rheumatoid arthritis, a heart attack and the death of her husband, Orie, while he was on a business trip to China in 2006.

Recommend testing

She hopes that something good can come out of her struggle by recommending women have BRCA testing if they have a family history of breast and ovarian cancer.

Fritts wonders if she had known about the testing earlier if she could have prevented her ovarian cancer by having a hysterectomy.

Fritts has two sisters and a niece who already have gone through mastectomies and hysterectomies because they all were BRCA positive — even though they had not been diagnosed with cancer.

One sister, however, learned from the post-surgery pathology report that early-stage cancer cells were in her breasts, even though she didn’t know it.

Fritts also has another sister who has had two occurrences of ovarian cancer.

McGraw recommends women listen to their bodies and see their doctors when they suspect there is a problem. She first noticed the lump in her breast while breastfeeding her son.

She also recommends regular cancer screenings, including mammograms and pap smears.

Ovarian cancer, however, has no definitive screening test and often is caught too late to be cured.

McGraw only hopes strides in cancer research and cure rates can be made by the time her children are grown.

Fritts becomes emotional when talking about how important her faith was through the process and how thankful she was for the support McGraw’s church, Fallcreek Wesleyan in Fishers, showed her daughter.

“They really showed the love of Jesus,” McGraw said.

“Having God to turn to,” Fritts said, “is the only way I was able to handle the things life has thrown my way.”


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