Guyanna Ackison has always been a strong individual. As an active duty
military nurse, she served in Operation Iraqi Freedom while raising two
beautiful daughters. But one morning, Ackison woke up with the worst pain she
had ever experienced. “I knew that this was not something that I could ignore,”
She visited her primary care doctor, who ordered an ultrasound and
found a ruptured ovarian cyst. After identifying additional cysts, her doctor
referred her to a gynecologist who told her to “wait and see,” rather than take
Fortunately, Ackison is not the type who sits around and waits for
answers. Currently a nursing student at the University of Pittsburgh and aware
of her strong family history of cancer, she began researching ovarian cysts on
her own. “I just had the gut feeling that there was a little more to this cyst
than being a regular cyst,” she says.
|Guyanna Ackison, ovarian cancer advocate, |
poses with her daughters, Carissa and Aeliana
“Everyone talks about the genetic testing which is molecular genetic
testing, but that actually can be ordered by any clinician,” Dr. Edwards said.
“We strongly recommend the evaluation piece," which is offered at both
Hillman Cancer Center
and Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC
During the genetic counseling process, Ackison needed to get medical
records for her mother, who died from cancer when Ackison was only 14 years
old. She believed her mother passed away from colon cancer; however, she
discovered her mother kept a major secret.
“I found out my mom had ovarian cancer. And they thought it was two
primary tumors, which is pretty odd,” she says.
Her genetic counselor recommended genetic testing for the BRCA
mutation, which can indicate an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer. But
despite her family history – in addition to her mom, her mom’s sister had
breast cancer and died at the age of 35 and her maternal grandfather had
pancreatic cancer – the results came back as an uninformed negative. No one in
her family had ever had genetic testing, so it was unclear if there was a
genetic mutation in her family.
With no real way to identify her results as a true negative, Dr.
Edwards diagnosed Ackison’s condition as endometriosis
, which occurs when the
cells that normally develop in the lining of the uterus develop outside, either
along the pelvic wall, on the ovaries or in the fallopian tubes. They discussed
“At that point in my life, I had two kids, I was recently divorced. I
wasn’t dating anybody, not planning on having any more children,” she says. “My
mom passed away when I was very young, and I wanted to prevent that from ever
happening to my children.”
“My daughters are probably my biggest driving force,” she says.
Post-surgery, Ackison was prescribed hormone replacement therapy
because of her young age. But just a few months later, signs of endometriosis
An MRI and an exploratory laparoscopy found precursor lesions for clear
cell ovarian cancer
, which was a sign of atypical endometriosis.
“It’s likely that’s what was involved with her mother’s disease,” says
Dr. Edwards. Atypical cells found in a benign or non-cancerous condition like
endometriosis are “worrisome, because you have an inflammatory condition and
you have the precancerous cells, which are a bad combination.”
Research has yet to determine whether or not atypical endometriosis is
associated with the BRCA mutation, but it is defined as a pre-cancerous condition.
“I had gone from dodging a bullet to having these precursor lesions for
organs that I didn’t even have anymore and there’s no way to test,” Ackison
Now, Ackison regularly undergoes surgery so Dr. Edwards can remove and
biopsy the lesions, which line her abdominal wall and vaginal cuff. She also
gets regular blood tests and Dr. Edwards has prescribed her a type of
progesterone to try and control her condition.
“She’s a young woman who should be having estrogen for good overall
health, and so we’ve been running this balancing act between keeping the
condition at bay versus giving her sufficient hormonal replacement so she can
function as a ‘normal’ person for her age,” he explains.
Fortunately for Ackison, her cancer risk is “essentially zero,” Dr.
Ackison is now focused on completing her bachelor’s degree in nursing at Pitt and would like to work in gynecologic oncology once she retires from
the Army in 2019. “I definitely feel that [this] is my calling in life,” she said. She also devotes her spare time to volunteering with the Pittsburgh chapter of the National
Ovarian Cancer Coalition (NOCC).
far, Ackison had clinical rounds at both UPMC Presbyterian in neurology and
Magee, where she had the opportunity to work with
patients and survivors of ovarian cancer.
“It really reiterated why we’re
here—why I do what I do as a nurse, and why the NOCC does what they do," she said. "It’s
for the survivors and for educating women."
Labels: Magee-Womens Hospital of UPMC, ovarian cancer, Robert P. Edwards