Real Stories: Genetic testing and a prophylactic mastectomy

Q & A Real Stories

At only 26 years old, Angela Dainas elected to undergo a preventative mastectomy after her family history and genetic testing revealed an elevated risk for breast cancer. This is her story about her journey with the Brookwood Baptist Cancer Genetics Center.

Q: How did you decide to explore genetic testing?

A: My mom was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2008. Her doctors educated her about genetic testing, due to the type of cancer she has. Our family doesn’t have a significant history of cancer, so she was the first person in our family to be genetically tested and her results were BRCA 1 positive. Her results meant there was a 50/50 chance that I was also positive, and I wanted to know for sure so that I could move forward with as much information as possible. I was tested in December 2008, and have the BRCA 1 mutation as well. My mom’s older sister also tested positive, but no one else in our family has been tested.

Q: How did you handle the results?

A: For some reason, I wasn’t shocked. Dr. Barnes called me to give me the results, but told me I had plenty of time to make decisions about prophylactic options since I was only 23 years old when I was tested. My therapist helped me tremendously, since I was facing my results and my mom’s cancer simultaneously. I also began researching BRCA mutations and found helpful websites for organizations like Bright Pink (www.bebrightpink.org). They have tons of helpful information for young women who are high risk for breast and ovarian cancers, as well as extensive information about the BRCA mutations specifically.

Q: How did you come to the decision to undergo surgery?

A: I married my husband Brandon in 2010. He has been an amazing partner throughout my mom’s ongoing battle with cancer, as well as my journey with the genetic testing. He and I discussed the benefits and also the disadvantages of prophylactic surgery for four years. I was in my final year of graduate school, counseling women with eating disorders, and I was empowered by the fact that these women are asked to face their fears each day—to work to become more connected with their bodies—and I was ignoring the fact that I had fears of my own to face. I contacted Carla Mason in the Brookwood Baptist Cancer Genetics Center and made an appointment with her last November.

Q: What made you comfortable with your decision?

A: It’s not a question of what made me comfortable with my decision, but who: Carla Mason, and Drs. Tamucci, O’Brien, and Kirkland—pretty much everyone I encountered at Brookwood Baptist. Every step of the way, these wonderful people and each of their offices were honest with me in their recommendations, and I felt very secure in my decision because they kept reminding me that they supported me 100%. My family and friends were also incredibly supportive and literally stood by me every step of the way, even after surgery!

Q: What advice would you give to someone in your shoes?

A: Know your family history, research your options, then process your options with a genetics counselor and your doctors. Join a support group, get a therapist, and reach out for emotional support. My aunt had this surgery before I did, so she was a major source of support. These are life-changing decisions. Give yourself time to make decisions about your health, and also time to recover. I feel great about the decisions I made and the timeline that I followed, but it may look different for you.

Q: Why did you choose Brookwood Baptist?

A: I chose Brookwood Baptist due to the accessibility of the Cancer Genetics Center. I literally just made the call, Carla and I scheduled an appointment, and we hit the ground running.

Q: How did Brookwood Baptist make this process easier for you?

A: Beginning with Carla, she scheduled me an appointment with Dr. Tamucci, who will monitor my ovarian health, and helped me find my plastic surgeon, Dr. O’Brien. Once Dr. O’Brien was on board, we decided Dr. Kirkland would be a good fit for the mastectomy. Everyone worked together to schedule and perform the surgery. I also felt like I could ask any questions that I had at any time. I even found myself lost in the hospital trying to find pre-admissions testing, and a hospital employee took the time to walk me to the other end of the hospital!

Q: Why would you tell someone else to choose Brookwood Baptist?

A: From the doctors to the amazing operating room staff, as well as the pre-admissions testing nurses to the staff in the billing department—who spent hours helping understand my insurance benefits—I was given time and attention which made me feel more at ease, since I was literally placing my life in their hands. I never felt over-looked, crazy or unimportant. I truly value my experience at Brookwood Baptist.

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