AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Casey Matthews is a 34-year-old wife and mother of four who was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer on April 25.
Just a month before her diagnosis, Matthews lost her best friend to breast cancer. This encouraged Matthews to act quickly when she felt a lump when breastfeeding her daughter.
“I kind of thought it was breastfeeding related, didn’t think a whole lot of it made an appointment in April with my OB, just to kind of check this weird lump out that I’d had for a little bit,” said Matthews. “He sent me over here to Texas oncology and they sent me for a biopsy on my 34th birthday. Came back on April 25, after they did a triple biopsy, and all three of them came back and it was cancer.”
Initially, Matthews was in disbelief and thought about her four kids.
Matthews began treatment two weeks later and was encouraged by her medical team at Texas Oncology to undergo genetic testing. Matthews tested positive for the BRCA two-gene mutation.
“They’re very different genes that have high penetrance or strong indication that you’re going to have a lifetime risk of breast cancer,” said Dr. Anne Doughtie, surgical oncologist at Texas Oncology. “About 80 to 90% of patients that are found to have one of those mutations will develop a breast cancer in their lifetime. They can also have an increased risk of ovarian cancer, pancreatic cancer, melanoma or colon cancer.”
Doughtie shared that genetic testing is incredibly important and at Texas Oncology they do a 48-gene panel that identifies a range of risks over an individual’s lifetime. If an individual is positive for a genetic mutation preventative measures can take place.
“Anytime we have a woman that’s found to have even a 20% risk of lifetime breast cancer, we start to talk about different ways of imaging, for screening, supplemental imaging, like an MRI. Or we can talk about hormone blocking, or risk-reducing surgery in some cases with serious risk of lifetime breast cancer.”
Matthews shared that her only true symptom was the lump in her breast and feeling tired about a month before she found out about her diagnosis. If Matthews could go back in time, she’d get genetic testing done sooner, to take preventative measures.
Throughout chemotherapy, Matthews has made friends with other people going through treatment and has had the support of her community.
“Just our whole community really has stepped up and rallied around us,” said Matthews. “They’ve been supportive emotionally, financially, and physically. I’ve had people that have helped with my kids and people that have sent meals and it’s really helped us see the good in people.”
Matthews recommends that if something doesn’t feel right, get screened.
“If you’re questioning it, you should go because I know for me, it’s likely that if I would have come forward earlier if I would have not thought oh, I’m young, it’s not going to happen to me,” said Matthews. “I probably would have caught it much sooner and it wouldn’t have been as far progressed as it is now. So, I would tell everybody, if you suspect anything, listen to your body and get checked.”
Dr. Doughtie shared its important to complete self-examinations, regularly go in for clinical breast exams, and discuss risk with providers.
“Beyond regular clinical follow-up, monitoring yourself every day looking for anything that’s not normal,” said Doughtie. “It’s not normal to feel a breast mass. It’s not normal to have a skin change. It’s not normal to have nipple discharge or itching or redness or rash on your breast, lumps underneath your arm. These are all second secondary signs of a potential malignancy for young women to we don’t want to just write it off.”
Doughtie said proactive measures can include exercising regularly to maintain a healthy weight and limiting the amount of alcohol consumption.
“So even just walking 20 to 30 minutes a day can reduce your risk of developing a cancer by half,” said Doughtie. “It can also reduce your risk of a recurrence if you actually do have a malignancy. Limiting alcohol use, we know that alcohol is a carcinogen for women, and in fact, the World Health Organization said even one drink a day for a woman can increase your risk of breast cancer by 20% over your lifetime. That’s very hard for a lot of women to hear because we are exposed to alcohol so much.”
Texas Oncology provides comprehensive care that allows patients to receive treatment in one location with the same medical care experts working on a patient’s case each visit.
Now, that Matthews has completed chemotherapy she will undergo a double mastectomy in November, followed by radiation treatment.