"My Battle with Breast Cancer"
"Breast Cancer Ran in Our Family -- and I Had No Idea"
When you see Kristin Guinan, 29, at the gym, busting out on the elliptical or doing leg lifts on the quad machine, the first thing that pops into your mind is what great shape she's in. But talk to her about the last two years of her life and you quickly realize that it's Kristin's inner strength that's most impressive.
In early 2008, Kristin, a senior marketing manager at FITNESS, was preparing for her August wedding. In addition to all the dress fittings and cake tastings, there were Kristin's five-days-a-week workouts. "I've always been focused on exercising, staying fit, and looking my best," she says. "It's a huge part of who I am."
One of the top items on Kristin's to-do list was to introduce her fiance, Andrew, to Angela, her cousin who lived in Florida. "Angela was amazing, smart, beautiful," Kristin says. "I totally looked up to her." Andrew never got the chance to meet her. That March, Angela, 39, a mother of two small children, was diagnosed with stage IV triple negative breast cancer, a very aggressive invasive type. Chemo didn't work, and Angela was too sick to come to the wedding. She died just 11 months after her diagnosis. Kristin was heartbroken. "It was such a tragedy," she says. "I couldn't believe she was gone."
The type of cancer Angela had is associated with a rare hereditary gene called BRCA1, which only one in 1,000 women has. "There's an up to 80 percent chance that someone with the gene will develop breast cancer in her lifetime and a 15 to 40 percent chance that she'll develop ovarian cancer," says Elisa Port, MD, who is now chief of breast surgery at Mt. Sinai Hospital in New York City and codirector of the Dubin Breast Center there. The gene typically leaves a trail of disease through a family. If a woman has a first-degree relative, a mom or a sister, say, who had breast or ovarian cancer at age 35 or younger, doctors see that as a red flag. They also pay special attention if she is of Ashkenazi Jewish descent; women of this ethnic background have a much higher likelihood of carrying the BRCA1 or the similar BRCA2 gene.
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