A number of years ago, Melissa Brandt felt a strong feeling to get genetic testing done. A variety of women in her family had breast cancer over the years and while they didn’t have access to advancements in genetic technology, Melissa took advantage of the fact that she did. It’s a decision that most likely saved her life. Melissa tested positive for BRCA2. Her father, brother and aunt would go on to test the same. She immediately spoke with a genetic counselor who encouraged her to see her doctors.
Melissa met with Judy Garber, a genetic oncologist (“She’s amazing, I am obsessed with her!”) and the two mapped out the best course of treatment. Melissa received a hysterectomy in October of 2018, followed by a double mastectomy with diep flap reconstruction. The surgeries were grueling and Melissa notes, “recovery was brutal and harder than I thought in long term ways. Clothes fit different and you get constant small pains. I have huge scars and it took me a long time to look at myself in the mirror again.” The news, followed by treatment, were life altering, but Melissa’s main focus was doing everything possible to prevent getting cancer, so she could continue to be there for her family. At the time of her surgeries, her children were 11, 8 and 4. The BRCA2 positive gene hits closer to home as a mother of daughters: “I hope my daughters do not have to go through what I did, but I am so grateful I tested so we can know. Knowledge- being educated- is huge.”
While Melissa has received nearly all of same surgeries as breast cancer patients, she is quick to recognize she has never had a cancer diagnosis. It’s this detail that, though grateful, makes her existence in the breast cancer community feel fuzzy: “I often feel like I cannot speak about my experience because I didn’t actually have cancer. I have had all the surgeries and my life has been completely altered by this disease, but I do feel like I don’t have a place in this community.”
At Runway, we know the incredible role previvors play in the breast cancer community. Melissa’s brave decision will go on to save many lives for generations to come in her own family. She also hopes it serves as inspiration for others to get tested- women AND men. Indeed, her proactive screening prompted her brother to get tested. Given his positive diagnosis, he receives increased chest screenings and check-ups. The understanding that men can carry and pass on the gene to their daughters or sons means his boys will receive increased screening and testing when they enter their twenties. These decisions may not only save their lives, but potential daughters down the line.
Melissa notes multiple times how grateful she is to have felt shock at the BRCA2 diagnosis as opposed to a cancer diagnosis. Her story is one that proves self advocation and taking advantage of medical advancements can benefit more than just yourself-all she has to do is look around at her three children, father, brother and nephews to prove it.