A Woman’s Perspectives on Facing Our Fears

April 6, 2015

Primary Care of Southwest Georgia is nestled in the far corner of the state where scenic landscapes can be seen for miles. From this rural area comes an inspiring story of courage and triumph from a woman who faced her fears of breast cancer with support from the Georgia Center for Oncology Research and Education (CORE), a Georgia Department of Public Health (DPH) partner.

Cindy, a southwest Georgia resident, lived her entire life with a strong genetic predisposition to breast cancer.

“I often would experience fear and anxiety about my health because of my family’s distinctive history with breast cancer,” she said. “My aunt died of breast cancer, my uncle had breast cancer in both breasts and my mother had a double mastectomy. I couldn’t help but feel like I was next.”

Strong willed and determined, Cindy did everything in her power to prevent breast cancer. Her breast cancer screening schedule was stringent and thorough – despite being uninsured, she never missed a mammogram, performed monthly breast self-exams and regularly visited her doctor for clinical breast exams.

During one doctor visit, it was recommended that Cindy consider genetic counseling and explore preventative options such as risk-reducing surgery or chemoprevention. Cindy became familiar with all of these options and even closely studied the health story of movie star Angelina Jolie.

In 2013, Jolie made headlines for documenting her decision to have a risk-reducing double mastectomy in a New York Times opinion editorial, “My Medical Choice.”  Most recently, Jolie again provoked widespread discussion about women’s health through her March 2015 editorial, “Angelina Jolie Pitt: Diary of a Surgery,” describing her experiences surrounding the surgical removal of her ovaries to reduce her cancer risk.

With a desire to understand how her genetic background would impact her health, Cindy went to Primary Care of Southwest Georgia to connect with Alice Kerber, a genetics nurse specialist at Georgia CORE. Kerber walked Cindy through every step of the process from reviewing her hereditary breast cancer risk to developing a pedigree and accessing financial resources that paid for her testing.

After completing her consultation with Georgia CORE, Cindy finally made a breakthrough in her breast cancer prevention journey. 

“The genetics nurse specialist at Georgia CORE informed me that I did not have the genetic mutation marker for breast cancer,” she said. “Knowing my health status, and having the courage to face my lifelong fear of this disease, gave me peace of mind that I did not have before.”

Although Cindy is free of the most common genetic markers for breast cancer, she understands that her family history remains a significant risk factor. Diligence and adherence to the full range of breast cancer preventive practices are still Cindy’s approach to minimizing her risks for developing this disease.

“I am fully aware that genetic testing does not provide a pass to forgo other methods of monitoring and preventing breast cancer,” Cindy said. “I still get regular mammograms, conduct monthly breast self-exams and educate younger women, especially my daughter, about the need to be vigilant in fighting breast cancer.”

The genetic testing program that supported Cindy began with the Enhancing Breast Cancer Genomics through Education, Surveillance and Policy program through an agreement between the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and DPH. CDC and DPH joined forces to introduce the Breast Cancer Genomics Consortium in 2011 that is administered by Georgia CORE. Through the consortium, a breast cancer screening model was developed that helped launch additional screening and surveillance services through Georgia’s public health system. Insights gained from this partnership have allowed for expansion of screening services throughout Georgia, which now are beginning to include clients in primary care and other community centers.

In addition the genetic counseling services provided through DPH and Georgia CORE’s partnership, Georgians seeking breast cancer support can access DPH’s Breast and Cervical Cancer Program that provides an array of breast cancer prevention services.

To learn more about Georgia CORE’s genetic screening and counseling services, visit www.GeorgiaCORE.org or call (404) 584-1178. A

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