Jessica Linn, a 33-year old Special Education teacher from Calhoun, knew from an early age that her chances of developing breast or GYN cancer were high. She had lost three women in her family to these cancers. All were diagnosed at later stages in life.
When she turned 30, Jessica finally summoned the courage to conquer her anxiety that, one day, she too could be fighting cancer. She contacted genetic counselor Katie Lang, with Northside Hospital Cancer Institute’s Hereditary Cancer program, and decided to undergo testing to determine her genetic cancer risk.
After the test and subsequent counseling session with Lang, Jessica learned that she was BRCA1 positive.
Women who have a BRCA1 gene abnormality typically have a 40-85 percent chance of developing breast cancer, as well as a 16-44 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer at some point during their lives. To put it into perspective, this risk is roughly 3-7 times higher than that of a woman who isn’t BRCA1 positive. Men with the BRCA1 gene also have a greater risk of developing male breast cancer along with an aggressive form of prostate cancer.
Three years later, following the birth of her first child, Jessica looked to Katie Lang and Northside Hospital’s Cancer Institute to talk through surgical options that could reduce her cancer risk. After discussing the options with her doctors and family, Jessica decided to have a double mastectomy to remove her breasts and lower her risk of developing breast cancer.
During a pre-op appointment just one week before Jessica’s scheduled mastectomy, doctors found a cancerous cluster, stage 0, in one breast. If Jessica had waited to get tested, the cluster could have gone undetected until her annual doctor’s appointment 7 months later, increasing the chances of it growing and spreading.
The mastectomy was a success and today, Jessica is living cancer-free. Because of her willingness to face down her risk, she was able to beat the disease and is now able to watch as her newborn son grows into a man.
*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.