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Breast cancer patient: 'I don't have that fear hanging over my head'

MOUNT PLEASANT, S.C. (WCIV) - Thousands of people will flock to Daniel Island this weekend for the Komen Lowcountry Race for the Cure for the thousands of women who are fighting breast cancer. One woman started the fight even before diagnosis.

When Stephanie Matthews lost her mom to breast cancer, she feared she may one day be faced with the same disease.

"Mom fought breast cancer for 18 years and passed away at the age of 48. It's been nine years since we lost her to her battle and I've wanted to be tested genetically to see if I carry the gene," said Matthews.

For nearly a decade, Matthews asked her insurance company to cover the cost of the test, but was told no every time.

"For one reason or another, it just hasn't worked out to where I can be tested," said Matthews.

Time after time, Matthews continued to do monthly breast exams and yearly mammograms, but this year's tests came with a welcomed change.

"This year at my yearly appointment, we submitted again to have the genetic testing done and I got a yes," said Matthews.

There are two ways to take the test.

"One is with a saliva test, where you just give a sample in a tube and we send it off," said Dr. Elaine Eustis, a gynecologist at Coastal Women's Wellness at Roper St. Francis Mount Pleasant Hospital. "The other is a blood test. It's the same as having your blood drawn for any blood test."

Matthews did the blood test. Three weeks later, she found out she was BRCA1 positive.

"It was full speed ahead from there," said Matthews. "What we could do, what we needed to do first, where I needed to go and I knew what my decision would be."

Within a month and a half, Matthews says she was ready for surgery.

"I decided to do a preventative bilateral nipple, skin-spearing mastectomy," said Matthews.

Within two months of recovery, Matthews was back to work and feeling healthier than ever.

"I think anyone who has been this close to breast cancer and has affected their life this much it's hard to carry that," said Matthews. "I don't have that fear hanging over my head. I will not have to do mammograms or MRIs of the breast."

While the BRCA1 and BRCA2 tests can detect a genetic mutation which can lead to breast or ovarian cancer, Dr. Eustis says it is only available to some patients.

"A candidate for testing would mean two first-degree relatives that have had a history of breast or ovarian cancer," said Eustis. "One first-degree relative under the age of 50 who has had breast cancer, and then there are some other questions that we ask patients to determine whether or not they are a candidate."

Even still, Dr. Eustis says knowledge is power and can change the course of a person with family history in either illness.

"The fact of the matter is a positive is not a death sentence," said Dr. Eustis. "If anything it's a gift because we know that this gene exists and we can look forward to preventing cancer rather than waiting for it to happen."

If you have a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, talk to your doctor about being tested.

The Komen Lowcountry Race for the Cure is set for Saturday morning on Daniel Island. It starts at 7 a.m. ABC News 4 will be there with a tent and a photo booth for those who want to pose for some photos during the race.

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