A woman many know from the popular TV show “Project Runway” is speaking publicly about the cycle of fear, uncertainly, and her decision to act after learning she had a high risk of developing breast cancer. Garcia is a “Project Runway” judge and the editor-in-chief at Elle. She’s used to expressing herself in words — but she said finding the right way to share with the world that she had decided to get a preventative double mastectomy was a huge challenge.
In an open letter published to Elle, Garcia wrote “I’ve been confronting my emotions and keep asking myself the same few questions, Am I scared? Yes. Am I relieved? Yes. Am I making the right choice? Absolutely.” Garcia made the difficult choice to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy after testing positive for a genetic mutation that significantly increased her risk of developing breast cancer.Read More
What is a prophylactic mastectomy?
In Garcia’s case, the decision wasn’t so clear cut. She didn’t carry a BRCA mutation, but a mutation in the BARD1 gene — which interacts with the BRCA1 gene. “Doctors think it increases cancer risk, but there isn’t enough data to know by how much,” Garcia wrote. “Even though I had amazing genetic counseling and many supportive doctors, there has been no clear direction as to what I should do.” After three years or screenings, doctor meetings, and biopsies — Garcia and her doctors decided to go the prophylactic mastectomy route.
When discussing prophylactic mastectomies in general — and the decision at-risk women are faced with — Dr. Elizabeth Comen, a medical oncologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center, emphasized the importance of understanding exactly how serious genetic risks are. “It is essential that doctors help patients understand what their individual breast cancer risks may be based on specific mutations and other factors,” Dr. Comen said. “And perhaps more importantly, it is critical that doctors and patients explore how the emotional experience of that uncertainty informs surgical decisions.”
As Garcia awaits her operation, she was really open about how scared she is — even though she said she’s sure she is making the right decision. “So here I am,” Garcia wrote. “Still scared. Still not looking forward to what I’m sure will be a pain-in-the-ass (or boob) surgery. But I am so deeply grateful. I’m grateful that science and technology make early detection possible (I urge all who are able to get the genetic testing to do so). I’m grateful for my wonderful team of doctors who have kept a very close eye on me through these past few years. I’m grateful for the sisterhood of women who have been so open and supportive.”