For Amanda Nelson, it wasn't a matter of if she would get breast cancer, but when.
In 2017, the Blair resident had undergone genetic testing after numerous members of her family, including her mother and aunt, had been diagnosed with the disease.
“I am a big proponent of preventative care and knowing your risks and checking if you're high risk, which our family is,” she said.
The testing revealed Nelson is a carrier of the mutated BRCA 2 gene, which impacts a person's chances of developing breast cancer.
“That's when I really started getting the in-depth preventative measures,” she said.
In addition to yearly mammograms, Nelson had yearly breast MRIs.
“The breast MRI is actually what caught the suspicious spot in my right breast and I went in for a biopsy right away,” she said. “The biopsy came back that it was cancer, coincidentally, on the same day I got a letter saying my mammogram was clear.”
That was in March. Nelson was 40.
“I honestly expected I would have more time before I would get my diagnosis,” she said. “I thought I would be in my 50s or closer to 60 before things would happen.”
Since her diagnosis of Stage 1 breast cancer, Nelson has had a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. She'll have another reconstructive surgery in November.
“I went straight to the surgery option. They offered a lumpectomy, but with being a BRCA2 carrier and knowing that we are so high risk, the possibility of it coming back in the same breast or in the other breast was just too high,” she said.
However, since her cancer was caught early, Nelson only had to take oral medications.
“Being able to do the genetic testing to really support the additional preventative measures has made a huge difference,” she said. “I haven't had to be in the position where I had to do chemo or consider radiation, which has been a tremendous relief to me.”
'If it happens, it happens'
Nelson's mother, Terry Wulf, was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2018 at age 61.
The Blair woman found a lump that she thought was just a muscle strain. A regularly planned mammogram proved otherwise.
“I assumed that it would probably happen at some point in time, but I never worried about it,” Wulf said. “If it happens, it happens. If it doesn't, I'm lucky.”
Following 16 cycles of chemotherapy, Wulf had a bilateral mastectomy, followed by three more cycles of chemotherapy.
Diagnosed after self exam
Deb McKain, Wulf's sister and Nelson's aunt, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 after finding a lump in her right breast during a self exam. She was 59.
“I knew right away with our family history,” she said.
The mammogram confirmed it — Stage 3 breast cancer.
McKain also opted for a double mastectomy after chemotherapy.
“It was like why mess with it?” she said. “Chances are you're going to get it in the other one. It's just a matter of time when. Let's just do it and get over with it one time and be done with it.”
Know your risks
All three women are advocates for breast cancer awareness. They've urged other members of their family — including the men — to be tested.
“I've talked with my cousins,” Nelson said. She's also encouraged them to talk with their dads.
McKain's granddaughter has already tested positive for the mutated gene.
“She's only 19,” she said. “I think she should have a mammogram starting at 21 or something, but they don't want to do anything.”
“She's got enough family history that she can be covered,” Nelson said.
“Younger and younger women and girls are showing up with breast cancer,” McKain added.
Nelson said it's important for both women and men to be their own advocates.
“If you feel like something is wrong, don't take no for an answer,” she said. “Keep going until you find someone who takes you seriously.”
McKain stressed the importance of self exams.
“I never did them and why I did one that night laying in bed is beyond me,” she said. “Somebody up there must have been telling me because I had never done them. I just didn't do them.”