Amy Link always knew she would get breast cancer.
“For me the question wasn’t ‘if?’ it was ‘when?” says Amy. When she was eight, she watched her mother lose her battle with breast cancer at age 32. And her grandmother died of the disease in her 50s.
In September 2006, at age 38, Amy’s question was answered. The wife and mother of two young children found a lump in her breast and another under her arm. Over a six week period Amy met with a Cooper genetic counselor, had genetic testing, underwent a mammogram, ultrasound and lumpectomy, and ultimately received the expected diagnosis of breast cancer. Amy talked over her options with Dr. Generosa Grana, director of the Cooper Cancer Institute, and decided to move forward with a double mastectomy.
“As soon as I knew it was cancer I said, ‘Take them off. I don’t need them anymore.’” says Amy. After the operation, the genetic test results came back, confirming she had a mutation in her genes that significantly increased her chances of developing breast and ovarian cancers.
After recovering from surgery Amy underwent radiation, chemotherapy and breast reconstruction, and a year later — because of her gene mutation— had her ovaries removed. Her treatments with anticancer drugs continue––but she considers herself “over the worst of it.”
Each year, more than 192,000 of American women learn they have breast cancer. Like Amy, about five to 10 percent of them have a hereditary form of the disease. For women with a gene positive mutation (BRCA1 or BRCA2) their chance of developing breast cancer by age 70 is 85 percent. Those with the altered gene also have an increased risk for developing breast or ovarian cancer at a young age.
In recent years a significant medical advance in the field of cancer has been the availability of genetic testing for these mutations. Women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer can now learn if they have an increased risk for the disease, and knowing can significantly affect the how a woman and her doctors move forward.
Patients empowered with the knowledge that they carry a mutation, but are cancer free, can work with their physicians to lessen their risk for getting breast cancer. And if they’ve already been diagnosed with breast cancer, can choose a treatment that gives them the best possible outcomes.
While Amy doesn’t take her situation lightly, she jokes that she has a better head of hair than before treatment and reconstructive surgery has given her the breasts she’s always wanted. She credits her sense of humor and her incredibly supportive family for helping her get through treatment.
With her husband Jeff, daughter Grayson Rose, and son Wheaton by her side, Amy says they “took each day at a time and coped with each new challenge as best we could.”
“I never had bad days — just bad hours, but doesn’t everyone!” Amy says. “I focused a lot on my kids and committed myself to fully living and truly appreciating my life.”
She has written a book for children called My Mommy Wears A Wig and is well on her way to developing a second book — this one for patients.
“Throughout my experience I never wanted to be coddled or treated differently. Everyone faces their own set of challenges — this is mine.”
“I know that one day my daughter will need to be tested for the genetic mutation. And I hope that by then medical science will have advanced to such a point that that if it comes back positive, she’ll just need to pop a pill and won’t have to worry about breast cancer at all.”