Breast Cancer Awareness: Local woman makes courageous decision to fight hereditary breast cancer
SHEPHERDSTOWN — Earlier this month, Stephanie Shields went under the knife to have the last of a series of surgeries performed — a double mastectomy. The road the Shepherdstown native has been on over the past year has been filled with moments of uncertainty and courage, after discovering she tested positive for having a genetic mutation on BRCA2 (BReast CAncer gene two).
The rare genetic mutation, which can also happen in BRCA1, can be detected by a saliva testing, which Shields underwent after her OB-GYN learned Shields’ mother and grandmother both were breast cancer survivors.
“My OB-GYN was the first person who suggested I get tested for BRCA. The doctor thought that with our family history, I was most likely going to get breast cancer at the age of 50. I just turned 40. So I said, ‘sure, whatever. I probably don’t have this. But sure,'” Shields said, mentioning she got the test results back in Feb. 2019.
Although Shields was stunned with the news, she realized that with her active lifestyle as a Master Sergeant in the Air National Guard, she didn’t want to be living in fear that she had any of the cancers the mutation increased her risk for — pancreatic cancer, prostate cancer, breast cancer, ovarian cancer and melanoma. So she decided, “pretty much as soon as I found out,” to take preventative action.
“I had already had a hysterectomy in December 2016, after I kept on getting precancerous cells, although I didn’t have cancer. They left my ovaries and tubes in, because they didn’t want me to get menopause,” Shields said. “In March was when I had my ovaries and tubes taken out, because I already had a history of precancerous cells in my ovaries. It took me two years to convince them to give me a hysterectomy. I never wanted to have children, it’s not in my cards, but they kept on saying I might want to have children. When I found out I had this gene, I said to cut them off. I don’t want to play the waiting game. I’m healthy now, so why not do it?”
After Shields took the test, her mother and grandmother both took the test in February as well, and tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation. The results spurred Shields’ mother to have a double mastectomy done right away.
Shields, herself, scheduled her double mastectomy for the fall.
“I decided just to wait to October this year, that gave me time to decide to process it and be mentally and emotionally ready to have it done,” Shields said, mentioning she prepared herself by reading comments on support groups and bonding with Shepherdstown resident Amy Childers, the West Virginia representative for Facing Our Risk of Cancer Empowered.
Today, Shields is three weeks into her recovery from her surgery. With the help of her family and friends, Shields said she is looking forward to getting back to work. For men and women with a family history of breast cancer, Shields encourages them to get tested to see if they are positive for BRCA1 and BRCA2.
“I tell everybody now, it’s good to get tested,” Shields said in an interview on Oct. 17. “It’s not like the testing hurts anything — you’re literally spitting in a tube. If you don’t have it, great. If you do, you can just get monitored. If you want to get a mastectomy, that’s up to you.”