Sisters with roots in Kitsap County battle cancer together

BREMERTON, Wash. -- For months, Kitsap County native Tessie Goheen put her life on hold to juggle time spent with her husband in Idaho and receiving specialized treatment in Portland, Ore. to help save her life.

Tessie has cancer, and it runs in her family.

"My sister Katie recently passed away from cancer, my younger sister Becky also has cancer and I, myself, have cancer," Goheen said.

The three sisters were first diagnosed at differing points in their lives but later battled cancer together until Katie's condition began to deteriorate before her death on Dec. 13, 2018.

Katie battled cancer for years -- in her jaw, her breast and her colon.

The three sisters were all diagnosed with a rare genetic disorder known as Li-Fraumeni Syndrome (LFS).

Doctors believe they likely inherited it from their father, who also died of cancer.

“This syndrome is unique because it isn’t a specific form of cancer for which people are at risk, but many types of cancer,” said Dr. Wendy Raskind with the University of Washington School of Medicine.

She said two doctors first discovered LFS while studying families with a history of cancer.

Scientists later found its mutations of the TP53 gene that can make many families with LFS susceptible to cancer.

"It tells the cell to stop, to die, essentially, if it has not repaired its DNA sufficiently," Raskind said.

For most people with cancer, it comes simply by chance.

Dr. Raskind said it typically takes a situation more unusual before someone decides to undergo genetic testing.

"A family with three affected at a young age, children, is going to come to attention and going to find an answer," Raskind said. "Whereas, if somebody develops breast cancer at age 50, we aren’t necessarily going to think about Li-Fraumeni Syndrome or any other inherited disorder.”

“Each of us have had multiple cancers, they’ve all been different,” Tessie Goheen said.

Until earlier this month, Tessie was undergoing treatment at Oregon Health & Science University. She's now back home in Idaho, and family members tell Q13 News that she and her husband hope to one day adopt children. She also hopes to begin teaching again.

Becky also finished her treatment in Seattle this month and has since returned to work.

From lost income to medical and travel expenses, the cost associated with Tessie and Becky's illnesses has quickly added up.

"All those little expenses start to add up quickly, on top of the medical costs, which are crazy," Goheen said.

But with support from friends, neighbors and complete strangers, the Goheen family said they have hope in the face of unimaginable loss.

"The support that we've received from people has been overwhelming," said Goheen. "It's hard to even describe how much it means. For somebody, they may think that, you know, a $10 donation isn't much, but seeing that they cared enough to do that, that that's how they chose to spend their money, means so much to us."

For more on how to help the Goheen family, click here.

For more information on resources for people with LFS, visit www.lfsassociation.org.

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