WBFF'S JOY LAMBERT: "I will be getting a preventative mastectomy"
A blank canvas; choose any colors you want. If only life were that easy.
Erin Kirkby was 30 when she had a mastectomy. “I was pretty young for it,” she said.
At the Painted Palette in Mt. Washington, Kirkby met sisters Jodi Gilmore and Amy Childers for the first time, although the meeting was more like old friends.
All three carry the BRCA genetic mutation, increasing their risk of ovarian cancer from less than 2 percent to up to 70 percent and breast cancer from 12 percent to up to 80 percent.
It was 2010 when Kirkby tested positive for the mutation, leading to years of fear and anxiety.
“I thought every day, 'Is today the day?' Is today the MRI that I’m going to go in they'll tell me they found something,” she said.
Nearly every hue of cancer has hit her family. “My mom was battling breast cancer for the second time,” Kirkby said.
“At the same time, my uncle, her brother was in treatment for pancreatic cancer.”
Both tested positive for the BRCA mutation, for Kirkby it was no surprise when her test was positive as well.
“For a minute I was completely numb to it” she said. “I had to go talk to a doctor and I just burst into tears. I thought it was completely over. I thought my life was going to be completely different than what I had planned. I was about to start work at Johns Hopkins. I had all these things I wanted to do. I wanted to get married and have kids.”
For many women with the gene, cancer’s not a matter of “if” but “when.”
“That's been a lot of coping and a lot of counseling,” Childers said about her diagnosis in 2011. “My anxiety was so enormous before the surgery that I broke a cast iron skillet."
Childers said: “I banged it on the counter a couple million times, because it sounded good. It sounded like what I was feeling. It's rough.”
Gilmore was diagnosed around the same time as her sister. She said it was “constant worry: two biopsies that, quite frankly, were worse than the surgery.”
According to the National Cancer Institute, only one in about 400 to 800 women have a BRCA genetic mutation. Often the best treatment is prevention. Removing ovaries and undergoing mastectomies before cancer has a chance to set in.
Kirkby, Childers and Gilmore all removed their breasts within the last year. Childers says, “We did the ‘Bye Bye Boobie’ party, the whole bit. No regrets, right? That was really helpful.” Gilmore says many of their cousins also tested positive and underwent preventative surgeries over the summer, “When we had the surgery this summer, nine of us went through it in different states. It's everybody.” Childers continues, “It's pretty pervasive.”
Before this meeting at Painted Palette, Kirkby had never met anyone else who didn’t have cancer who carried a BRCA mutation. Fox45 News Reporter, Joy Lambert, invited the three women to meet because she is also a carrier of the BRCA mutation.
“[Cancer] has never skipped anyone in my family,” she told the women.
“My mom’s cancer, she was 34, which is how old I am now,” Lambert explains. “She had advanced stage three and it was the size of a grapefruit.”
Like Kirkby, Childers and Gilmore, Lambert has been undergoing annual mammograms and MRI’s since she tested positive in 2008.
Lambert will undergo a preventative mastectomy on September 25 to reduce her cancer risk.
“After this one, you’re done,” Childers told her. “Which is a really weird thought, because it's just been looming, like you, it's just been looming for so long.”
Kirkby said: “The relief I felt after waking up from surgery was incredible. I had never, I felt like I was breathing for the first time. I knew that I had awful anxiety but I didn't know just how bad it was."
Getting ovaries removed and preventative mastectomies are decisions many never dream of making, "Even though we know were done having kids, it's really the finality of knowing, that once I do this, it's done," Kirkby says.
However, Kirkby explained it's knowledge she's lucky to have.
"It's a hard choice but it's a choice that I have the opportunity to make and she never had that opportunity," she said.
"You have the remarkable opportunity to change your destiny. I had to turn that around from this is a curse to this is a gift. But it is," she said.
It's a "gift" Childers never wanted, but one that empowers her.
Gilmore, who has two daughters, says her kids were the reason she elected to have the surgeries.
"They're the reason why I went through it. But they're also the reason why I have guilt, because they're going to have to get tested," she said.
Kirkby has one son and will get her tubes removed later this year.
"If somebody told me that I had to cut off my right arm to see him grow up and get married I would do it. And I know just looking at him after having it done it really confirmed to me that I made the right decision."
Lives no longer colored in fear, but brushed with a whole new color of hope.
Kirkby said: "If I can help just one 23-year-old to know what her options are and to know it's not the end of the world, then I feel good about it."
Lambert is expected to be back on air at the end of October.