Claudia Gilmore was 23 years old when, on January 11, 2011, she had a preventative double mastectomy with reconstruction. Her story is documented in a unique video project in which Gilmore shares her personal account of her experiences, feelings and decisions leading up to her surgery and what happened during her recovery and reconstruction.
Gilmore did not have breast cancer. A genetic mutation made her more likely to develop breast and ovarian cancer cancerous cells later in life. As a preventative measure, Gilmore opted for a prophylactic double mastectomy to decrease her risk for breast cancer. She shares her story in an effort to support any woman with a hereditary risk of breast/ovarian cancer, trying to offset the risk in whatever way one may feels comfortable.
BRCA 1 and BRCA2
Breast cancer is a devastating disease. Women with genetic mutation in their BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes have up to an 85% lifetime risk of getting breast cancer and up to a fifty percent risk of developing ovarian cancer by age seventy. In contrast, women with normal functioning BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes have about a twelve percent risk of developing breast cancer and about a two percent risk of developing ovarian cancer by age seventy.
BRCA1 and BRCA2genes belong to a larger class of genes known as tumor suppressors. They are essential for repairing damaged DNA. Mutations of BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes are inherited in an autosomal dominant pattern, which means parents have a fifty percent chance of passing the mutated gene to their children.
Breast cancers involving BRCA mutations are more aggressive than other forms of breast cancer. Generally, women with such a mutation are very vulnerable to breast cancer. Vigilance, which involves mammograms, breasts exams by doctors, sometimes even MRIs, may help diagnose breast and ovarian cancer early. However, when doctors find an unusual lump in a woman with BRCA?s breast, they are more likely to biopsy it. These biopsies can be frequent and very painful. As in Gilmore?s case, for some women prophylactic double mastectomy, designed to dramatically decrease the risk for breast cancer, may be an option.
On her blogPrevive, Gilmore writes ?We are all in this together. And it is also for that reason that I lend my story up to the general public so that they, too, may understand and have compassion for the struggles, sorrows and joys that accompany life with a BRCA1 or BRCA2 mutation.? Gilmore dedicates her project to her father and her grandmother. ?If it weren?t for their courage, I would never have been given a new lease on life. I am forever indebted to these two inspirational people. I love them both with all my heart,? Gilmore said.
A fascinating documentary
Maureen Dolan-Galvaniz, an independent film-maker working on shows for National Geographic Television, NOVA, TLC and Investigation Discovery, and a former classmate of Gilmore heard about her the inspiring story and was fascinated. Eager to share Gilmore?s story about preventative options, Dolan, together with producer/editor and the 2009 Emmy award winner for Best Documentary James Allen Orr and Executive producer John Scablon, began working on a documentary about Gilmore?s journey.
Commenting on the importance of her project, Dolan said ?[This story] is incredible and inspiring and touches on so many big ethical health issues.? For many womanthere areimportant question to ask. ?Would you want to know if you had a genetic mutation? What would you do once you found out? Should we test our children? What is life like once you know that you have an increased risk for a deadly disease?? Dolan asked.
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