Confronting a Family History of Breast Cancer, a Surgeon Makes Radical Decision


Despite Tests, A Radical Decision

When testing for the breast cancer gene, doctors test the affected family member, in this case Teal's mother, first. Because her mom tested negative for the gene, Teal was never tested herself.

Teal had seen and been through enough with her mom and best friend, however, to conclude that a mastectomy, the removal of both her breasts even though she had only a 50-50 chance of ever getting cancer, was the right decision for her.

"I had a strong family history of breast cancer," Teal told "GMA." "The screening process is supposed to catch cancers early, but it didn't in my mother's case."

""I looked at my next 30 years of screening. Did I want to go through that?"

And so began Teal's life-changing journey, one in which she turned the cameras on herself, allowing George Washington Hospital to document her ordeal on film as she went from doctor to patient.

Teal checked herself into George Washington last January for a "bilateral prophylactic mastectomy," the medical term for a double preventive mastectomy. In the same surgery, doctors would begin breast reconstruction by inserting expanders.

"I woke up ... and I was like, what did I do," Teal said, recalling her immediate post-surgery feelings. "But I just feel total relief. I have no regrets at all."

Her family was also relieved, having stuck by her side even when Teal's own colleagues at George Washington, especially male doctors, who didn't understand the stress of breast cancer screening, questioned why she would take such a radical step.

"The 'what if' can be a tough thing to live with," said Teal's husband, Dave. "So this is something she wanted to do, and right away, I wanted to support her."

Teal's extended family, including her mother and aunt, were the spurring factors in Teal's decision to have a mastectomy, but her immediate family, her children, were the reason Teal chose to undergo the surgery now, in her 40s, as opposed to waiting until she was older, or until cancer struck.

"My kids are young now, and oblivious," said Teal. "My daughter, right now, all she cares about is that I was home for a month and could meet her at the school bus."

"I have the luxury of control and got to choose when the best time to do this is," she said. "When you have cancer you don't get that. Cancer takes control."

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