QUAKERTOWN, Pa. - It's a disease that kills 7.6-million people worldwide each year. There is no cure for cancer, but thousands of folks are now trying to stop it before it even starts.
Natalie Blumberg decided to take aggressive measures after discovering she inherited a genetic link to breast and ovarian cancer. After she tested positive for a mutation on one of the BRCA genes, she underwent a complete hysterectomy, but she didn't stop there.
"This was definitely the most difficult part of this journey," described Natalie. "The most difficult thing I've ever experienced in my life."
The Quakertown woman thought she was mentally and emotionally prepared, especially considering everything she already went through. Natalie healed quickly after her total hysterectomy in September.
"That was a true success," she said.
In the two months that followed, the single mother was swiftly on her way to staying cancer free. Natalie met with the plastic surgeon to set up a plan for her prophylactic double mastectomy.
"We go over all the risks and benefits of all the procedures as well as the scarring that's involved," shared Dr. Johnny Chung with Kevitch & Chung Aesthetic Surgery Associates.
Insurance typically covers the breast reconstruction and preventative surgery. However, not every woman gene carrier decides surgery is for them. Medical, emotional and even social ideas about femininity play into the decision.
"As a woman, of course I've had those moments alone where I've thought about what this means to me physically," Natalie admitted.
The day of the procedure, Natalie arrived at the hospital early, fear making the single mother second guess her decision.
"I've had little doubts here and there, moments, you know, just wondering if it's the right thing to do."
A four hour procedure was all that separated her from a completely different life.
"They're what's called skin sparing mastectomies where all of the breast tissue is removed," explained Breast Surgical Oncologist Dr. Tricia Kelly with St. Luke's Cancer Care Associates.
Dr. Kelly removed all of the breast tissue down to the muscle of the chest wall. Then the plastic surgeon stepped in for his part of the procedure.
"We are using all her own skin," added Dr. Chung. "The expanders will go underneath her chest muscle and then the skin over top will cover the implant."
The expanders are slowly filled and within a few months are replaced with an implant. Post surgery, Natalie's chest went from as size F to an A-cup.
"For me, it was much more shocking then I thought it would be and I was really sad," she shared. "I was really sad, I felt an instant loss."
On top of that, Natalie also experienced weeks of intense pain. The surgery reduced her almost eighty percent chance of developing breast cancer down to about five percent. Her breast tissue was sent to a lab to be tested for any hidden cancer.
"Patients need to be aware that this doesn't guarantee that they won't ever develop breast cancer," Dr. Kelly said. "But it's not likely to occur."
Natalie's pathology report showed she already had abnormal, precancerous cells growing inside her.
"It proves what I've been saying all along," she smiled. "That the BRAC test saved my life, I have no doubt about that."
To find out more, read the script of our live chat with Dr. Nichols Taylor of St. Luke's University Health Network.
Allentown, PA 18102