One out of every eight women will receive a breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime.
Because of this, the breast care experts at AdventHealth Gordon have partnered with the Calhoun Times to turn the newspaper pink in support of October being Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
It is recommended that women begin getting mammograms at age 40 unless there is a family history of breast cancer, in which case it’s sooner. It’s also advised for women to get screened for genetic risk, especially if they have a close relative who had breast cancer or if they’ve already had their cancer diagnosis.
Karen Brisendine had never considered genetic testing to see if she had a gene mutation that increased her risk for developing breast cancer or other cancers. But in December 2019, the Calhoun resident was offered information about genetic testing when she went to AdventHealth Gordon’s Edna Owens Breast Center for a routine mammogram.
“I had never thought about doing genetic testing at all,” Brisendine said. “I don’t know if I would have ever had genetic testing if it hadn’t been available at the breast center.”
While checking in for the mammogram appointment, the then 63-year-old kindergarten teacher was asked to complete a short questionnaire to assess her genetic risk for developing certain types of cancers. If a patient answers “yes” to any of the questions, a short video is offered, and they are connected with a genetic counselor. Brisendine answered ‘yes’ to more than one question.
After meeting with the genetic counselor, Brisendine opted to have her blood drawn and tested. The test confirmed Brisendine was BRCA2 positive, which means she has a gene abnormality that increases her risk for developing certain cancers.
“I had an 87 percent chance for [developing] breast cancer, and I was a high candidate for ovarian cancer,” she said.
While Brisendine had previously undergone a hysterectomy, she knew before she even met with the oncologist that she would have to undergo a double mastectomy.
“There’s a very, very slight chance you can still develop breast cancer [after a double mastectomy], but it’s almost nil,” she said. “I thought, in a way, I’ve been given a gift because I can prevent something from happening.”
Brisendine scheduled her mastectomy for June 2020 so she could finish the school year, but there was another matter she had to tend to first – telling her 26-year-old daughter about the test results.
Brisendine’s daughter, Leah Brisendine, a library aide at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Library and graduate student at North Carolina Central University, took the news in stride and traveled back to Calhoun to get tested at the breast center after her mother’s surgery. The results showed Leah was BRCA2 positive too. She said the testing gave her new information she can now use to plan her future.
“To me, it’s better to know than to be ignorant,” she said. “Knowledge is power, and, for me at such a young age and having this diagnosis, I have more time to plan out my options and what kind of medical exams I am going to need to have and family planning…By age 40, I’ll have a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy. Most 20-somethings aren’t discussing that. But that puts me in a unique category of having that knowledge, but also having the time to plan it out.”
Since the breast center began offering the testing in November 2019, more than 4,600 patients have been screened there. Just under one-third of those screened were found to be at high risk.
“I really feel like this has saved my life, and it’s going to save Leah’s life too,” Brisendine said. “Was I thrilled with the results? No, but I see now that good came out of it, and I hope that other people might think about it, too, because we just want to beat cancer and this is one way we can do it with genetic testing.”
For more information about genetic testing or to schedule a mammogram at the Edna Owens Breast Center, please call 706-602-4518 or visit AdventHealthGordon.com/mammo.