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Local women react to Jolie’s news, share stories of healthy breast removal

Kimberly Jewett Plainfield is breast cancer survivor.  | Submitted photo

Kimberly Jewett of Plainfield is a breast cancer survivor. | Submitted photo

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Updated: June 16, 2013 6:16AM



Like Angelina Jolie, they are beautiful women. Young mothers. Friends who live near each other in their Plainfield homes. And both decided to have healthy breasts removed in order to decrease their risk of developing cancer.

Kimberly Jewett, 37, and Sheri Reed, 41, talked freely about their stories the same day Jolie revealed in a New York Times op-ed piece that she recently underwent a double mastectomy because she carried the same breast cancer gene that had claimed her mother’s life.

Not surprising, Jewett’s story is a little different from Jolie’s, and from her friend’s. But they all carry the same message.

With a history of breast cancer in the family, and after losing her left breast to cancer at age 31, Jewett went through genetic testing to determine her risk of developing cancer again. Even though she tested negative for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes, she made the decision to have her healthy right breast removed anyway because “I just knew in my gut it would come back.”

Plus, she noted, the test does not necessarily identify every possible genetic mutation out there.

Last year Jewett did develop cancer again — in the tissue of the left chest wall. But that only validated her decision to have the surgery on the healthy breast. Now, she says, she lives with “more peace of mind,” knowing her chance of the disease spreading is even less than the normal population.

That peace of mind is key when it comes to genetic counseling and making hard decisions.

For Sheri Reed, it wasn’t a matter of if she would have a double mastectomy, but when. Breast cancer claimed the lives of her grandmother and four great aunts at an early age, and struck her own mother at age 33, who survived but is now battling ovarian cancer.

Reed had a double mastectomy at age 35, after her last child was born. But because breast and ovarian cancers are linked, her OB-GYN suggested she also have her ovaries removed. Before making that decision, however, Reed went to Edward Hospital genetic counselor Elyse Weber to find out just how high that risk was.

After her mother underwent testing for the basic BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene, Weber suggested Reed’s mother, who lives in Florida, undergo the more recently developed genetic test called BART, which identifies a rarer type of mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes.

When the results came back positive, both Reed and her sister got tested. Her sibling had the mutation, Reed did not, which means she can keep her ovaries.

Without testing and genetic counseling to guide her, she said, tough decisions would have been even more difficult.

The genetic testing helps women make informed decisions about their health, said Weber, who is kept busy performing between 100 and 150 tests a year at Edward. Delnor Hospital in Geneva and Rush-Copley in Aurora also offers genetic counseling, and Weber foresees more community hospitals adding this service, especially since an increasing number of insurance companies are picking up the cost if risk factors are evident.

Rush-Copley Medical Center has offered genetic testing for more than four years, and just this year began offering a genetics counselor to work with patients. Since December of 2012, said spokeswoman Courtney Satlak, the hospital has identified more than 145 patients via BRCA testing.

Genetic counseling not only helps women determine if they need to take the test to begin with, says Weber, it can also help determine options other than surgery, such as medications or accelerated screenings.

Jewett, Reed and Weber all agree that Angelina Jolie’s newly released story can do nothing but help other women make smart choices about their health.

“What an amazing decision it was” for Jolie to speak out, said Jewett. “It’s all about educating, inspiring and empowering.”



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