Patient Story

Local judge chooses to fight cancer (and win) before it has a chance to start

Leslie Abernathy and daughters

Patient Story photoThe truth is, there is never a good time to fight cancer. I chose now.”

Roswell resident and Forsyth County Judge, Leslie Abernathy, knew cancer ran in her family. Her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer twice, and her great grandmother was diagnosed with both breast and ovarian cancer. With this knowledge, Abernathy began seeking advice from cancer specialists and undergoing MRIs to learn everything she could about her own genetic risk for cancer.

One day, while conducting a routine self-examination, Abernathy found a lump on her right breast. Concerned, Leslie quickly paid a visit to general surgery specialist Dr. Elizabeth Steinhaus at Northside Hospital Breast Care Specialists in Atlanta. Dr. Steinhaus told Leslie the lump was simply an anatomical anomaly and not cancerous, but suggested she receive hereditary cancer testing if she was still worried about her risk.

A few weeks later, Leslie took Dr. Steinhaus’ advice and decided to undergo genetic testing. When her test results came back, Abernathy was shocked by what she saw. Although she did not test positive for the BRCA gene – an abnormality responsible for increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer – she did test positive for the ATM mutation.

Women who carry the ATM mutation have an increased risk of breast cancer, sometimes at relatively young ages. This risk is not as heightened as those found within BRCA mutations, but it is still high enough to increase screening frequency to ensure that any cancers that may develop are detected as early as possible. For some, like Leslie Abernathy, it’s even enough to consider surgical options to reduce their cancer risk outright.

After taking some time to digest her options with family and friends, Leslie decided to undergo a double mastectomy with reconstructive surgery.

Today, Leslie is cancer free and possesses a new peace-of-mind following her successful surgery. She encourages others who are concerned about their risk to at least consider genetic testing. For Leslie, it meant winning her battle with cancer before it started.

*The health story shared here may portray atypical results of survival for this type of cancer, given its severity and stage. Atypical results are considered surviving a cancer that has less than a 50 percent five-year survival rate. Patients should consult an expert to discuss specific treatment plans and the possible outcomes before making medical decisions.

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