When 36-year-old Paola Gerber found a lump in her breast, she was terrified. Knowing she had a family history of breast cancer at a young age, she automatically assumed the worst.
“I have three women in my family who were diagnosed with breast cancer before the age of 40,” she said.
Paola thought she was next.
Fortunately, the tumor turned out to be benign. But Paola still worried what this might mean for her future. She spoke with her physician about her fears and shared her family’s history of breast cancer.
Her doctor urged her to consider a breast health risk assessment through genetic testing at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano.
On her husband’s birthday in 2012, Paola heard the results of the genetic tests. They revealed a scary diagnosis, but it’s one she is thankful for today.
“I was diagnosed with the BRCA1 genetic mutation, which gave me an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer and a 50 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer,” she said.
Frightened by her cancer odds, Paola’s mind immediately leapt to her family — her husband and two young children. She couldn’t bear the thought of her children growing up without their mother.
“I was in shock,” she said. “The first thing that came to mind was my family, my kids. What will my kids do without me?”
Paola didn’t have breast cancer, but she wasn’t about to wait around for it to come. Empowered by genetic testing, she took control of her breast cancer odds.
Paola opted to undergo preventive surgery — a hysterectomy at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Grapevine in November 2012 and a double mastectomy at Baylor Scott & White Medical Center – Plano in January 2013. She returned for breast reconstruction five months later.
The decision didn’t come easily for Paola, a model and former Miss Peru. But she knew it was the right path for her.
“The day of my surgery, I got there and I wasn’t afraid,” she said. “I was pumped up and ready to go!”
Now, she’s back to doing the things she loves, including modeling and beauty competitions. In 2014, she competed in Mrs. World, finishing in the top three as a representative of her native country, Peru.
Paola is able to enjoy life and live without fear of the future. Thanks to genetic testing and preventive surgery, she now has only a five percent chance of developing breast cancer.
“All of my surgeons did a beautiful job, but the most beautiful thing is that the surgeries dropped my risk of both cancers dramatically,” she said. “I have peace knowing I will be here to see my children grow.”
About the author
Grace Glausier is the manager of digital content strategy for Baylor Scott and White Health. A graduate of Baylor University, she is passionate about connecting people through powerful stories and empowering individuals toward better health.