Woman changes her likelihood of developing breast cancer

FORT WAYNE, Indiana (WANE) – Breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the United States. In 2019 there were 264,121 new cases of breast cancer in women. This is the latest available data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

A Fort Wayne woman is doing everything she can to never be a part of that statistic.

“I will do whatever it takes to get to the finish line and hopefully have a very long and prosperous life with my kids and family,” said Heather Regan.

The 45-year-old mother of three loves to travel.

The Regan family: Steve and Heather and children Phoenix, 19; Hall, 15; Huson, 12

“I feel young and I love life. I’m adventurous and always have my health,” she said. “Getting breast cancer takes a toll on someone’s body and mental health, and I don’t want that.”

Breast cancer runs in Heather’s family. Her grandmother was diagnosed with it when Heather was a teenager. Heather’s mother has been genetically tested and she carries a gene that increases the risk of breast cancer. Ten years ago, Heather was also tested. She was also positive.

“I went to a genetic counselor and she said you had this ATM gene. They’re prone to breast cancer, ovarian cancer, and pancreatic cancer,” Heather said.

However, it was not clear at the time to what extent she was at increased risk. However, in the last decade, research has made great strides.

“Ignorance is bliss, but I feel like there is some benefit to knowledge and technology. Now we have enough research that I have a 60 percent chance of getting breast cancer. When I found that out, I was like, ‘Woah. That’s something I need to respond to,'” Heather said.

The family history of breast cancer extended beyond her grandmother. Her mother-in-law also struggled with the disease.

Heather with her mother-in-law who lost her battle with breast cancer.

“After my mother went through what she did, it was very, very difficult. I didn’t want to go through that a second time with my wife,” said Steve Regan, Heather’s husband.

Steve’s mother was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2000. She had chemotherapy, radiation and surgery.

“She was good for 15 years. Then it came back. And came back with a vengeance,” said Steve.

Now Heather and Steve are doing everything they can to not have another breast cancer battle in their family.

“Rather than risk the possibility that I might get breast cancer, we decided if we could reduce that risk to 1 percent, why wouldn’t we,” Heather said.

After much deliberation and discussions with her sister-in-law, who is OBGYN, and a friend who had the same procedure, Heather will undergo a prophylactic mastectomy – traveling to San Francisco to see a surgeon performing a new type of surgery to treat her to keep their nerve.

“I still want to feel hugs. I want to feel like a woman. That was very important to me,” she says.

Heather’s surgical journey begins in December with a breast reduction. The nerve-sparing mastectomy then takes place six months to a year later.

“I will be returning to San Francisco for two weeks. At this point I will have all of my breast tissue removed. They’re going to leave my nipple and they’re using cadaver nerves, trying to use whatever nerves they can spare. I will still feel and feel and look like a woman. They make the implants and send me on my way. I’ll still be able to look pretty much like a normal woman when I get out of this, but hopefully without the cancer-causing cells in my body,” she said.

Steve, who is a dentist, knows that surgery always involves risks but says it’s worth it.

“I think the risks are much lower with surgery than with the alternative. What you’re going through with the surgery is predictable and knowing what the outcome will be is a lot better and then also knowing that you’re going to reduce that 60 percent to 1 percent is a no-brainer for me,” he said.

“I want to be able to lead my daughter to the altar. I want to go to my son’s graduation. I want to hold my grandkids,” Heather said. “You can be a previvor. You can survive cancer or beat it before you ever have it. Because once you have it, you have it forever. I’d rather be the person who doesn’t have to worry about telling my family I have cancer.”

Heather encourages everyone to get genetic testing done.

“It’s a very simple blood test. You can go to your GP or your OBGYN and ask to have this done. I would really recommend any woman with a family history of breast cancer to have it done,” she said.

Because of her family history and genetics, her insurance will cover the cost of the mastectomy, but not the nerve-sparing technique.

Four years ago, Heather had a hysterectomy due to some other issues and her risk of ovarian cancer. She also gets yearly scans to look for signs of pancreatic cancer.

https://www.wane.com/top-stories/woman-changing-her-odds-of-getting-breast-cancer/ Woman changes her likelihood of developing breast cancer

Dais Johnston

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