After her mother’s breast cancer diagnosis, healthcare professional Velvet Giddens sought genetic testing for the breast cancer gene mutation known as BRCA. When the test came back positive, indicating a high risk of developing cancer herself, she underwent a preventive mastectomy, or surgical removal of both breasts.
“It’s a double-edged sword when you become the patient but you’re also a nurse. Your perspective quickly changes,” Giddens says.
Caring for Others First
Giddens is a registered nurse who manages behavioral health care coordination services for Peninsula Outpatient, a division of Parkwest Medical Center. Previously, Giddens worked for 20 years in critical care and oncology, caring for many breast cancer patients.
When her mother received a breast cancer diagnosis, Giddens and
her sisters were presented with the option of genetic testing. Knowing that her grandmother had passed away as a result of breast
cancer, she jumped at the opportunity. The test revealed she was BRCA positive, indicating a significant risk of breast cancer.
A positive test result means there is a mutation in one of the breast cancer genes, BRCA1 or BRCA2. Although the BRCA genes are the most common cause of gene-related breast and ovarian cancers, a positive result doesn’t mean a person is certain to develop cancer. The mutated gene can come from either parent.
About Genetic Testing
Genetic testing can identify mutations in genes that substantially increase the risk of breast or other cancers. The test itself can be saliva or blood, which is sent to a highly reputable genetic testing lab that provides a detailed report. The results take about two weeks.
William C. Gibson, MD, FACS, is a general surgeon specializing in breast surgery with Premier Surgical at Parkwest Medical Center. He has noticed the practice of genetic testing has gained momentum over the past few years.
Dr. William Gibson specializes in Breast Cancer Surgery.
“A lot of times, the genetic mutation is not discovered until after someone receives a cancer diagnosis. This is why we suggest family members of someone diagnosed with a genetic abnormality also seek genetic counseling and testing,” he says.
Good candidates for any type of genetic testing (not just breast cancer) are typically young people with a family history of the disease or those with an aggressive cancer diagnosis.
Genetic counseling was a positive experience for Giddens, who says it provoked in-depth conversations with her doctors. “It was a lot of material to understand and process, but helped me make an informed decision about my health care.”
In 2019 Giddens was admitted to Parkwest and underwent a bilateral, nipple-sparing, prophylactic mastectomy with immediate single-stage reconstruction. Dr. Gibson performed the mastectomy, in which he removed all visible evidence of breast tissue while leaving the healthy skin remaining.
Giddens received implants in the same surgery by Timothy Wilson, MD. The procedure took a total of about five hours, and she went home the same day.
Giddens says, “I wanted to get it done as soon as possible so I could assist my mother and sisters with their decisions.” The other two women followed Giddens with similar procedures.
A Burden Lifted
“I knew I had an increased risk of developing cancer. I knew this was right for me, and emotionally, it took a lot off my mind,” Giddens reflects. “Some people may think it’s a radical decision but I didn’t think twice about it. We had an extensive family history of breast cancer, so the decision for me was easy.”
We Are Blessed
“We are so blessed to have Parkwest right here in Knoxville,” Giddens expresses. “Everyone treated us with such respect, from registration, to pre- and postop, and the surgery team in between. My mother, sisters, and I could not be more pleased with the care we received from the wonderful staff at Parkwest.”
Giddens encourages others to be their own healthcare advocate and ask questions of their physicians to better understand treatment options.