Twins Iris and Clarisa Valdez recently shared their story of courage and hope and thanked the City of Hope care team for its guidance and support.
But most importantly they are “giving back” by sending their message of comfort and support to others at the hospital.
A Family History of Breast Cancer
The twins were aware that members of their family had various forms of cancer. Their earliest recollection about cancer came from a detailed map they saw that listed family members who had the disease.
There was also a strong family history of breast cancer on the father’s side.
Factors Leading to Their Decision
Clarisa’s personal story began in 2015 when during her annual exam she mentioned her family history to the doctor. Based on her description of a strong history of breast cancer, the doctor felt it would be a good idea for her to be tested for mutations called BRCA1 and BRCA2.
He gave Clarisa the name of an oncologist who discovered that Clarisa had both mutations. Clarisa immediately called her sister, Iris, who found that she too carried the mutations.
Iris in turn called the City of Hope about her own discovery in an attempt to prevent a run-in with the disease. She worked with the hospital’s genetics division to manage her care proactively.
Clarisa left Boston in 2017 and went back home to California. She was placed under the care of Dr. Daphne Stewart, a gynecologic and breast cancer specialist. Dr. Stewart’s advice to Clarisa was to have a double mastectomy.
Not An Easy Decision
So many thoughts ran through Clarisa’s mind. Initially she just thought “NO.” Then thoughts like “What if I never get breast cancer?” or “What about all the advances in modern medicine between now and over the next ten years?” or “Then I would be the same age as my mother when she got breast cancer.” Or simply “Should I wait?” Her main concern was that she should not make a hasty decision.
Clarisa had such a difficult time questioning the feasibility of a double mastectomy that she waited almost six months to finally make the appointment for the MRI that Dr. Stewart had recommended. The MRI was scheduled for January 2018 with Dr. Veronica Jones, who was eventually assigned as her surgeon.
The test results showed that she had not just breast cancer, but an aggressive form of called triple-negative breast cancer.
Clarisa, age 31, was more inclined now to agree to the operation. Dr. Jones performed the mastectomies. Replacement implants were included in the surgery, sparing the nipples.
Dr. Jones recommends this type of operation rather than going back for repeated surgeries. Chemotherapy treatment followed and Clarisa is now free of cancer.
Protection for Iris
After putting the same amount of thought into getting a double mastectomy, Iris decided that it beats getting a diagnosis of cancer, especially such an aggressive type of cancer. She also opted for a double mastectomy.
Dr. Jones said that these decisions, made by women who carry the BRCA mutation, occur on a case by case basis. A mastectomy based on the discovery of a mutated gene is not mandatory nor is the timing of the operation. Doctors encourage patients to engage in a discussion in order to be well-informed and comfortable with their recommendations.
Doctors always offer the option of surveillance, which does not involve surgery.
Both Iris and Clarisa are so grateful for the care that they received at the City of Hope Cancer Center. By sharing their experience they can help others who have received a similar diagnosis.
Clarisa also would like to be an advocate to others contemplating a mastectomy in order to ease their burden, answer their questions, and if possible, aid in their decision.