‘How My Father's Genetic Test Led Me to Make a Radical Decision About My Health'
Although Katelyn Yoshimoto's family has a history of , it wasn't something she thought about much until a few years ago. “My dad's mom died [of breast cancer] when he was in high school, and my aunt got breast cancer when she was relatively young," says Katelyn. "But I honestly didn't think it applied to me.”
But that family history led Katelyn's father to get tested for the BRCA gene (a.k.a. the BReast CAncer susceptibility gene). According to BreastCancer.Org, men are just as likely as women to have the abnormal breast cancer gene—and to pass it on to their children. Once her dad tested positive, Katelyn knew that genetic testing was something she needed to consider, too. That’s because the odds are significantly higher that you’ll get cancer if you have the gene and don’t get treatment: You’re seven times more likely to get breast cancer before age 70 than women without the gene, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
“After my dad tested positive, I scheduled a meeting with a genetic counselor,” says Katelyn, who was 33 when she underwent the test in 2013. “Right away, I was all in. That's not to say that it wasn't a very emotional experience. That first meeting was so overwhelming. I went with my husband, and I just remember that the counselor covered so much information, and I had such an emotional reaction to everything that I don't think I was really able to truly process all the ins and outs of genes and what it means.”
After a simple blood test and a brief waiting period, Katelyn learned that she'd tested positive for the BRCA genetic mutation. “I don't think I prepared very well for hearing the results,” says Katelyn. “They ask you when you get your blood drawn, ‘OK, when we get your results, do you want us to call you? We can call you and tell you to come in, and we'll talk to you in person, or we can call you and just tell you.’”
Katelyn says she opted to get her results over the phone. “I was at work and I remember I had a new client meeting,” she says. “Then I get this call, and it's super emotional because it's so scary. And as much as I tried to prepare myself for the worst, I think that you always have that hope that you're going to be the person in your family that doesn't have it.”
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Katelyn remembers crying for 45 minutes in her office, then pulling herself together and trying to move on with her day. “It is life-changing, and it does hit you in that moment when you hear the news,” she says. “And then during the pre-testing and post-testing, there were all these things that were running through my mind, and I would always think of them at the most inopportune times when I wasn't in front of someone who could answer them for me.”
Other than her husband, Katelyn didn’t share the results—or even the fact that she was going through with the testing—with her friends. She wanted to keep it to herself, she says, because she didn't want people to worry about her.
But one celebrity made it a little easier to explain things to her friends and family once she decided to share what she'd learned. “If I said to people, I tested positive for the BRCA gene, they were like, ‘Wait, what is that?’ and I'm like, ‘You know, the Angelina Jolie thing,’" she says.
Like Angelina, who chose to minimize her risk of breast cancer by having a double mastectomy, Katelyn decided to do the same.
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“I thought about it hard,” says Katelyn. “That surgery was easily probably one of the hardest things that I've ever done. Not only physically but emotionally. It's hard. It's tough. But I've never regretted doing it. I know that it's not a decision that's right for everyone. I just knew me, and I knew that that's not how I wanted to live moving forward, just waiting for this bad thing to happen. Living in fear of that was not what I wanted to do.”
Katelyn had her prophylactic double mastectomy in the summer of 2014. “As I thought about the risk and the stress, getting the mastectomy was right for me at this time in my life,” she says. “I mean, I have taken steps to be really proactive, but I also recognize that it's not for everyone. I do think though that being able to know where your risk level is so you have the power to make the decisions that are right for you is everything.”
Now, she undergoes regular MRIs, blood work, ultrasounds, and other early detection appointments throughout the year and recommends that women get screened early and often. “If you just know about this little genetic abnormality you have, there are things that you can do right away,” she says, adding that her approach is to be hyper-vigilant about the her own physical and emotional wellbeing.
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