I knew for decades that I had one relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 41. Beyond that, my family medical history was unavailable to me. When I underwent my first screening mammogram at the same age, it was more of an inconvenience than a source of worry. Thankfully, my mammogram was fine.
I also knew that, while East Asian women have lower rates of breast cancer, when breast cancer does occur, it can happen at a younger age and is often more difficult to treat.
For me, these and other life experiences led to the conclusion that I needed a more definitive, honest picture of my personal risk for breast cancer. I decided to have genetic testing. I wanted to know and understand my potential cancer risk since I had little information about the cancer in my family. If I had more information, it would allow me the opportunity to proactively outsmart cancer, rather than react to it if it should occur.
I tested positive for a PALB2 genetic mutation and my risk for breast, ovarian and other cancers was elevated. I was grateful to hear this news from a genetic counselor who could explain the details. Six months after learning this, I had a mastectomy and oophorectomy and my breast and ovarian cancer risks were reduced to lower than average levels. Plans are in place to address any additional cancer risks associated with this mutation.
A little over a year later, I heard that my relative died of metastatic breast cancer, almost three decades after her initial diagnosis and treatment. I consider myself incredibly lucky. The opportunity to have genetic counseling and testing, coupled with having solid resources in place, was my lucky break. My “luck” has brought me immeasurable peace of mind for which I am deeply grateful.