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Your Healthy Family: How genes impact likelihood of breast cancer

Posted at 7:02 AM, Oct 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-27 20:15:48-04

PORT CHARLOTTE, Fla. — October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and Fox 4 is looking into how genes can play a role in your likelihood of breast cancer, and how cancer can impact your ability to have a family.

Sami Pickens is from Port Charlotte, and was just 28 years old when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. She's now cancer-free, but lives with the impacts of her diagnosis every day.

Because Pickens was so young when she was diagnosed, her doctor suggested she get tested to find out if there's a mutation in her BRCA 1 gene. People who inherit this gene mutation are at higher risk of breast cancer.

"I did find out that I am BRCA 1 positive," Pickens said.

She said her grandma and aunt on her dad's side both had breast cancer, but theirs weren't caused by genetic factors; meaning they weren't BRCA 1 positive. Pickens said her decision to get tested for the gene mutation was also for her other family members.

"I wanted to make sure I did that in case it was that, so that my sibling and all my cousins and everyone... we would know that that's a potential for them in the future," Pickens said.

Once her diagnosis was confirmed, Pickens had some decisions to make.

"The next step with the BRCA 1, when I weighed like risks and benefits, was to go ahead and get a double mastectomy,” she said.

Her doctors decided she wouldn't need chemo or radiation, but she did have to start hormone therapy.

"Which put me into menopause at 28 years old, which is not fun. But, you know, you learn to deal with that," Pickens said.

She was then cancer free, until seven months after her initial diagnosis, when the cancer came back.

"I literally fell to the floor. My stomach just started like cramping, and I feel like I'm going to throw up," she said.

She had a single mastectomy, and went through chemo and radiation. Pickens has now been living without cancer for the last year and a half. She still has quarterly checkups for radiation, infusions every six months, and she takes medicine every day. She said the medicine could impact her fertility.

"If I'm unable to have kids after this treatment done, and I'm 34 years old, I'm interested in adoption, so starting to look through all of that, and being excited about what that looks like," Pickens said.

Pickens said she's hopeful for what life brings her and her husband in the future. She wants to remind anyone dealing with a breast cancer diagnosis, they're not alone.

"Even though you're going through something that's so awful, it happens to one in eight women, so that also means there's a lot of women that have been where you've been, so don't be afraid to reach out," she said.

She also wants to remind women to do monthly self-exams, and keep up with their routine mammograms.

Pickens' said her sister Mandi is also BRCA 1 positive. Mandi got tested right after she was first diagnosed with breast cancer, and now Mandi gets an MRI every six months to make sure she's cancer-free.