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After being diagnosed with the BARD1 gene and undergoing a preventative double mastectomy, Nina Garcia shares her story to raise awareness and offer hope for other women.
Discovering one has a genetic predisposition to cancer or hearing the words, “You have cancer,” can be a scary experience, but not one that patients have to go through alone – a new message Nina Garcia, editor-in-chief of ELLE Magazine, is helping to spread through the Alliance in Reconstructive Surgery (AiRS) Foundation.
In 2015, Garcia underwent genetic testing after discovering a family history of breast cancer. She had a mutation to the BARD1 gene, which interacts with the BRCA1 gene. After three years, and countless tests inducing fear that the next would lead to a cancer diagnosis, she underwent a preventative double mastectomy and later reconstructive surgery.
In 2019, Garcia shared her story in hopes that others know they are not alone in these feelings. In an interview with CURE, Garcia spoke about her experience and her work with the AiRS Foundation to raise awareness and hope for others.
CURE: Can you explain what led you to seek genetic testing?
Garcia: It was a very well-thought-out decision. I have family members who have a history of breast cancer, and in the last years I saw how so many friends were getting tested and some of them (were) going through surgeries or treatments. It was in 2015, after talking with my doctors and then with my family, when I decided to take control of the situation and get tested. The test showed that I had a mutation on the BARD1 gene that interacts with the BRCA1 one.
How did you learn about your genetic predisposition, and how did that shape your decision for preventive surgery?
Before making that decision, I really had the feeling I was surrounded by the disease itself. Family members and friends all were going through testing and treatments. In life, I always believe that you need to have the best information possible before deciding on a life-changing procedure. Genetic testing, the counseling of my doctors and the support of my family were my three pillars in that particular moment.
How can women learn more about their options?
First of all, I think it is very important to let them know that they are not alone. When I shared my story with breast cancer, I received hundreds of messages from women that went through the same situation. These messages and their advice were my lighthouses during the entire process. I will suggest to anyone going through this, to be surrounded by a team of doctors that you really trust and to check the work of so many organizations like the AiRS Foundation that are putting helpful information out there. Information is always key.
How can we help to spread awareness around genetic predispositions?
I think it’s so important to break the silence. We need to share our stories and to tell our sisters that they are not alone. To have a support system that loves and understands you is essential.
How have you worked with the AiRS Foundation to help spread this awareness?
I think the most powerful tool I have is to be able to share my story, in interviews, in one-on-ones, using my social media to raise awareness.
What is your biggest piece of advice for a woman who has a genetic risk for breast cancer?
To get tested without any hesitation because to live with uncertainty is not a good solution. To delay a piece of information that will be vital short or long term is not a good practice in my point of view. Information is power.