Michelle Morin Wilkinson never thought she'd get breast cancer, even though both her mother and grandmother have battled the disease.
"It just never occurred to me," Wilkinson said. "I mean, I took precautions. I got mammograms every year from the time I was 30. But I never expected anything to happen."
So it came as a surprise when Wilkinson, a single mother of three boys living in Cicero, was diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer on Jan. 30 after a routine doctor's appointment.
"I went in for my annual pap smear, and my doctor sent me immediately for a mammogram and sonogram," she said. "Then they referred me immediately to a breast surgeon."
By the time Wilkinson had the surgery March 4, the cancer had spread to her lymph nodes; of 20 she had removed along with the tumor in her left breast, eight were positive. She just finished her eighth round of chemotherapy last week, and she'll undergo a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in August, followed by six weeks of radiation.
"At this point, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Wilkinson said.
Though her surgeon and oncologist have declared Wilkinson cancer-free, she'll also have her ovaries removed as a precaution against developing ovarian cancer. Her doctors are taking that extra step because Wilkinson tested positive for BRCA-1, a human gene, some mutations of which are associated with a significant increase in the risk of breast and other cancers. A woman's lifetime risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer is greatly increased if she inherits a harmful mutation in BRCA1 or BRCA2. Such a woman has an increased risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer at an early age (before menopause) and often, like Wilkinson, has multiple, close family members who have been diagnosed with these diseases. Harmful BRCA1 mutations may also increase a woman's risk of developing cervical, uterine, pancreatic and colon cancer.