Genetic Test Provides Woman With Preventative Cancer Options


UPDATED: Wednesday April 10, 2013 6:14 PM

A "pre-vivor" is someone who survives an increased risk of cancer and someone who has to make tough choices to do that.

Tonya Dixon, 40, and her husband are appreciating the days without medical worry. For a long time, they have lived with a serious unknown.

"I always thought about it, wondered if the next diagnosis would be mine," said Tonya.

Family history was behind Tonya's fear. She was just 7 years old when she lost her mother to ovarian cancer.

"I have always thought my whole life that that was going to be my," she said.

But she did not know her odds until she got medical results that indicated she tested positive for the BRCA 1 mutation.

"You feel it's empowering ...Absolutely -- I think it is so important for people to know about this ahead of time," said Heather Hampel.

An increased risk for ovarian cancer comes with that result. Researchers say there's more.

"They're looking at a lifetime risk of breast cancer of up to 85 percent compared to 12 percent in the general public," said Hempel.

"I knew if she tested positive, we had a plan. We could move and do something about all this fear she had ever since I had known her," said Danny Dixon, Tonya's husband.

The plan was preventative surgery which included a hysterectomy and then a mastectomy to remove organs and tissue that could become cancerous.

Tonya and her sister had the procedures at about the same time.

"This was a way to save ourselves because I wanted to be around for my kids," said Tonya. She said that she was making the choice, not cancer.

Although she felt empowered with the knowledge, she was scared.

"Scary, very scary… I remember walking to the parking lot with Danny and standing there sobbing," said Tonya.

"Courage - it takes a lot of courage to go through what these women go through to get the end result they're hoping for," said Dr. William Farrar.

Farrar performed Tonya's mastectomy. Another doctor completed reconstructive plastic surgery.

Tonya has not been without complications since the surgeries.

"Despite all of that, the peace of mind I have now -- I can't put a price tag on it.  It's unbelievable," she said.

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