By Zarinah Shahid
With October wrapping up – the month recognized as breast cancer awareness month – it serves as a reminder for many to undergo periodic checkups and to seek treatment for positive diagnoses. For Alabama Power employee Kimberly Maryland, a routine checkup and knowing her family’s medical history may help save her life.
Many women in Maryland’s family have battled breast cancer. Her mother, aunt and cousin all were diagnosed with the disease. Knowing this, and learning from her doctor that she has a high likelihood of developing breast cancer based on the results of her family’s BRACAnalysis ®, Maryland has decided to opt for an elective double mastectomy.
The BRACAnalysis ® is a genetic test that detects the presence of a BRCA1 or BRCA2 (breast cancer susceptibility genes 1 and 2) mutation. Carriers of either of these gene mutations have risks of up to 87 percent for developing breast cancer and 39 to 63 percent for developing ovarian cancer by age 70.
Maryland had indications several years ago that all was not well.
“A few years ago, I had a mammogram. At that point, I had to have them every two years and they saw something in the mammogram which was inconclusive,” she explains. “So, I had to go back and they had to do an ultrasound and that was inconclusive, and then they had to do a biopsy.”
After her mother, Josephine Perry, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012, family members underwent the BRACAnalysis ®.
Perry opted to have a double mastectomy after receiving her breast cancer diagnosis, Now, Maryland has decided to undergo a double mastectomy to avoid breast cancer.
“My doctor and I really kind of talked about it, and she said you really should consider the elective mastectomy,” Maryland recalls. “It’s common now thanks to Angelina Jolie and medical advances.
“My younger cousin was just diagnosed with cancer, so I’m looking at it and said, ‘you know what – it’s time, and I don’t want that to happen to me.’”
There are a number of ways to face the high risk of developing cancer, and Maryland has decided to face it fearlessly. Not only is she electing to have the double mastectomy, she also is giving 12 inches of her hair to Locks of Love, a nonprofit charity that accepts donations of human hair to make hairpieces for poor children in the United States and Canada. Through the organization, children suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis receive the hairpieces, which are intended to restore their self-esteem and confidence as they face the world and their peers.
“I was growing my hair out, not really thinking about doing it,” Maryland says. “But the longer it got, I gave it a little bit more thought and instead of just cutting it to cut it, (I thought) let’s cut it with a purpose.”
Maryland asked her mother to cut her hair to send to Locks of Love. Perry commends her daughter for her decision and understands it is propelled by her newfound sense of community.
“It seems since I’ve gone through it, I’ve met so many people that have it,” Perry says. “Whether it’s breast cancer or any other type of cancer, being in that community, being a part of that family, it’s wonderful that you can sort of show your experience, tell what you’ve gone through so they can understand before they start going through it.”
To learn more about breast cancer awareness, visit the Susan G. Komen website at komen.org. To learn more about Locks of Love, visit http://www.locksoflove.org/.