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Indiana identical twins, always in sync, facing cancer battles together

Lisa and Teresa have always done things together, which now includes a journey with ovarian cancer.

MARION, Ind. — Two Indiana sisters who have shared everything in their lives are now sharing a battle with ovarian cancer.

Lisa Simmons and Teresa Swain are so in sync, they call each other before bedtime every night to make sure they're wearing the same pajamas. 

Born in Marion, the identical twins have been close their entire lives.

"We grew up together in the same bedroom. Everything was just alike," Lisa said. "Everything was alike. Our clothes, our beds, you name it."

As adults, they still look like a team, head to toe, wherever they go.

"Our parents dressed us alike our whole life, so we continue that, as we got older and we've never changed it. We've just always dressed alike because we didn't know any different," said Lisa.

So a double wedding to their high school sweethearts was a definite. There was a big spread in the local newspaper when the Coyler twins married Greg and Tommy.

"Our husbands couldn't even tell us apart. Truly," Teresa said. "I mean, like, Greg would be, 'Lisa, come here, I want to talk to you.' 'I'm Teresa.'"

"Tommy would do the same thing," Lisa laughed.

"They're saints for dealing with it for all these years, because, you know, if one of us is mad at them, we both are," the sisters said.

Being in sync is all they know.

So imagine the shock when Lisa alone got bad news.

"She said, 'You have cancer,'" Lisa said. "She said, 'It's a very large tumor.'"

It was stage 3c ovarian cancer.

"I thought, 'Why not me?' If it has to be one of us, I want it to be me," Lisa said.

She learned she was BRCA-positive, a genetic mutation that increased her risk of ovarian and breast cancer. Since the twins split from the same egg, they have the same DNA, meaning Teresa was BRCA-positive, too.

Doctors recommended a prophylactic or preventative hysterectomy.

Days before her surgery earlier this year, Teresa learned she, too, has stage 3c ovarian cancer. 

The sisters were back in sync.

"I was relieved, because I, you know, hated it for her," Teresa said. "I mean, we'd never done anything not together, right, and a couple of years ago, we did it together."

"After that, she was diagnosed, and I don't mean this in a bad way, but it was a relief because I wouldn't do it alone," Lisa said. "I didn't want her to have cancer, but when she did, it was, like, 'We've done everything together our whole life, why not this?'"

Lisa and Teresa go to the same doctor.

"I just appreciate the fact that she knew what I was going through...what would be happening to me," Teresa said. "I mean, she walked me through every step that came along and, 'You're going to feel this, you're going to do this.' She's exactly right. So, you know, I had a teacher who helped me with all of that."

"I mean, it's very unusual," said gynecologic oncologist Dr. Sarah Goodrich. "Twins aren't that common in the general population and then you have a disease like ovarian cancer that the average lifetime risk is less than 2% and then you're putting those two very uncommon things together."

Now you can tell the sisters apart. Lisa's hair is longer, since she's had more time to grow it back. Also, their tumors and treatment were different.

Overall, their prognosis is similar.

"I wish that I could say that we had a cure for advanced-stage ovarian cancer, but unfortunately right now, we don't," Goodrich said.

"For the girls, as terrible as it sounds, for them to go through it together, it's really a blessing," said Lisa's husband, Greg. "Because I would hate to think that you would be all alone, bearing that burden."

What do the men dislike most about the situation facing their wives?

"Knowing what they got coming," said Teresa's husband, Tommy.

"I mean, we need to realistically look at the statistics, people with our type of cancer, our stage of cancer, two to five years is a good run," Lisa said.

The twins are determined to see how far they can go together.

"It's not 'if' we get cancer again, it's 'when' we're going to have cancer again," said Teresa.

"My biggest fear is that we will both be very sick at the same time and not be able to help the other one through," Lisa said. "We never even thought that would ever happen, that one of us would not be here with the other one. Never even entered our minds."

"We truly thought we would die of an old age, together," Teresa said.

"God's not finished with us yet. He knows we've got things to do. He'll have the final say. That destination will be great," Lisa said.