After Breast Cancer Journey, Survivor Gives Back

When widow Angie Taylor moved to Plantation from Maryland in 2015, she was ready to start a new chapter in her life. At 48, and with children approaching young adulthood, she felt drawn to the ocean and excited to start a new job. Her refurbishment initially went smoothly ―. But just a month after he turned 50 on July 6, 2017, life changed again. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. “While I wasn’t surprised, I was numb,” she recalls.

Watch now: Breast cancer survivor Angie Taylor talks about her diagnosis and treatment at the Miami Cancer Institute. (Video by George Carvalho.)

The role of genetics

Ms. Taylor has a long family history of cancer. Both of her grandmothers had breast cancer, an aunt was diagnosed in her late 30s and two cousins ​​were also diagnosed with breast cancer at a young age. In addition, her siblings and other family members have been diagnosed with pancreatic, stomach and prostate cancer. Armed with that knowledge, she began screenings at age 35 and always had an annual mammogram. She was about four months behind when she found the lump herself during a breast self-exam.

Lauren Carcas, MD, medical oncologist at the Miami Cancer Institute in Plantation, part of Baptist Health South Florida

After meeting Lauren Carcas, MD, a medical oncologist at the Broward County site of the Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, Ms. Taylor genetic testing and counseling. She was positive for a BRCA1 mutation, which carries a significantly higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer, as well as some other cancers such as pancreatic, melanoma and prostate cancer (in men). In addition, her mother is from the Caribbean, one of the high-risk populations, along with Hispanics, for developing cancer.

Mrs. Taylor submitted a list of questions to Dr. Carcas so she could best understand her early-stage, BRCA-associated, triple-negative breast cancer. “I felt such a sense of compassion and caring,” she said. “I came in crying. I was a mess. I had 10 million questions and she took the time to answer them all.”

“Really, the core of my approach to oncology with my patients is education,” said Dr. carcass. “I’m here to educate them about the options, about the disease, and to make sure what I’m recommending is in line with their values.”

The implications of a positive genetic test go beyond the moment a patient receives results. If a patient has not yet been diagnosed with cancer, doctors may recommend aggressive screening, lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes prophylactic mastectomy or removal of reproductive organs. If they have been diagnosed with cancer, they now have information that can help guide treatment and make health decisions throughout their lives.

Getting treatment

With a better understanding of her early stage, BRCA-associated, triple-negative breast cancer, Ms. Taylor on five months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery. On December 28, 2017, she had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. Radiation therapy was not necessary. A year later, she underwent an oophorectomy — the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes — to prevent ovarian and other gynecological cancers.

She has also spoken to her son and daughter who, in their mid-twenties, will soon be eligible for genetic testing. “There is a 50 percent chance that each of the children would also have this gene mutation, meaning they would have an increased risk of developing cancer,” said Dr. carcass. Testing can be done at any time during their adult life, and if they choose not to test now, they are advised to follow screening guidelines as if they tested positive.

While this new chapter in her life wasn’t what she had planned, Ms. Taylor said it did teach her about herself. “I gave myself permission to cry for eight minutes every day. I figured eight minutes because I felt it was short enough to get it out, but then I could pull it back together and move forward. She also learned that the women around her in chemotherapy appreciated her sense of humor.

Now she gives back

But there was more. She wanted to give back. “I wanted to do something to help provide free mammograms to uninsured women,” she said. “I started a non-profit organization, Artfull Angels, and so far I’ve helped 19 women. Of the 19, four were diagnosed with breast cancer. They are doing great. I call them my angels. The oldest is 72, and I was able to sit with her when she had her mastectomy.”

“Angie has become an advocate for other women,” said Dr. carcass. “She understands the importance and how life-saving the screening studies are, but even more than that, how life-saving are the friendships she offers these women going through treatment.”

Tags: BRCA1 mutation, breast cancer, breast cancer awareness month, Lauren Carcas MD, Miami Cancer Institute, Miami Cancer Institute at Plantation

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