WebMD senior writer Miranda Hitti interviewed women who faced breast cancer as part of a
series for Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The series, called "Me & the
Girls," explores the personal stories of these women.
Pam Cerceo, 51, lives in the Philadelphia area. She didn't have breast
cancer, but it ran her family -- her mother and older sister both had it, and
both had mastectomies. Right before her
50th birthday, Cerceo got a routine mammogram and also got an MRI
to look for signs of breast cancer.
Breast Cancer: Me & the Girls
When breast cancer hits home, it's personal. WebMD shares stories and
advice from women who know what breast cancer is like firsthand.
Zunilda Guzman, 39, had both breasts and ovaries removed after learning she
had breast cancer and a high-risk gene.
Cerceo, 51, had both breasts removed even though she didn’t have breast
Diane Morgan, 71, offers advice on what friends should and shouldn't do
when someone has breast cancer.
No cancer turned up, but Cerceo did have "atypical" breast cells. She
explains that those cells might or might not develop into cancer. "It's a
very gray area," Cerceo says.
Cerceo then got genetic testing, which showed that she had a BRCA gene
mutation -- but not one of the mutations known to make breast cancer and ovarian cancer more likely. "It's
an unknown variant, so that was even more of a gray area for me," says Cerceo.
She adds that her mother and sister had also gotten genetic testing and had
that same mysterious mutation.
Preventive step: Cerceo decided to get both breasts surgically
removed to prevent breast cancer.
"My mom and my sister were both tested also and had the same exact variant,
and they both got breast cancer. So for me, that was good enough," Cerceo says.
"I don't want to take a chance."
She had both breasts removed -- a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy -- in
November 2008. Doctors didn't find any cancer in the breast tissue that was
removed, but Cereco doesn't regret her choice.
"Psychologically, I don't think I could wait and just hope that nothing ever
happens," Cerceo says. "My breasts didn't mean that much to me that I would
give up my peace of mind."
Mastectomy recovery: "Now that I look back, it really wasn't that
bad, but it definitely was painful," Cerceo says of her mastectomy
She says she started to feel "really good" about five weeks after her
mastectomy. Doing the exercises that were prescribed to help her arm and
shoulder movement helped. "Definitely do the exercises; stick with it," Cerceo
says. "I think that got me into shape much quicker, and I think it lessened the
pain much quicker."
Nearly a year later, Cerceo has gained more perspective on the process. "At
the time you think, 'Oh my gosh, I am never going to get back to normal,' or
'I'm never going to be able to do this or that.' But you know what? You do ...
you do definitely get back to doing everything you did."
Breast reconstruction: Cerceo decided to undergo breast
reconstruction using tissue expanders, which stretch the chest skin to make
room for implants.