Survivor Melanie Nix shares her experience with NIH MedlinePlus magazine.
Melanie Nix was determined to head off cancer before it did her any harm. Her mother had died at age 49 of breast cancer after three battles with the disease. Ovarian cancer had recently shown up for a second time in her aunt.
So in the summer of 2008, at age 38, the Maryland resident shared her family history of cancer with her doctors.
"I really wanted to be aggressive with my screenings," Nix recalls. "I took a test and it was determined that I carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation."
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that make proteins that help prevent the growth of tumors. When either of these genes is mutated or altered, its protein product may either not be made or function incorrectly.
"I was diagnosed on Nov. 21, 2008. In the subsequent days and weeks, I learned that it was triple negative breast cancer," she says. "It was stage 1, grade 3, which is the fastest growing."
An Overwhelming Experience
Nix had already been discussing preventive surgery with her doctors before her breast cancer diagnosis. But the diagnosis was overwhelming.
"For my husband and me—at the time, my daughter was one; my son was four—always at the forefront was the thought of doing everything we can to fight this so we can watch our kids grow up," she recalls.
Nix opted to have both of her breasts removed, which took place in mid-December 2008. The cancer was in her left breast and she chose to also have her right breast removed for prevention.
Due to her family history and age, and because of her type of cancer, her doctors advised her that chemotherapy would be an additional safeguard.
"By the end of June, when I had finished chemotherapy, we all felt like I was in great shape," Nix shares. She was free of cancer.
But because she learned the BRCA1 mutation carries a higher risk of ovarian cancer as well as breast cancer, she also decided to have her ovaries removed for prevention in July 2009.
Nix has become an advocate for those with the disease. She is featured in a National Cancer Institute (NCI) "Lifelines" video . She also helped launch the Breast Cancer Genetic Study in African- Ancestry Populations initiative in July 2016.
What does Nix tell women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer?
"Arm yourself with information," she says. "The NCI website has great information. Speak with doctors about your specific diagnosis. Really make sure you have a true understanding of your diagnosis and all the treatment options that are available."