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Unusual circumstance leads to early cancer diagnosis

Breast cancer runs in Julie Dressler's family. Her grandmother had it and, two years ago, her father learned that he had it as well.

Your Local Health | Written by BJ Towe

Breast cancer runs in Julie Dressler’s family. Her grandmother had it and, two years ago, her father learned that he had it as well.

That prompted Dressler, of Grinnell, and her sister to last year have genetic testing. These simple blood tests would determine if they had mutations in their BRCA1 and/or BRCA2 genes, which increases the risk of breast cancer. Results showed that Dressler had a mutation in her BRCA2 gene; her sister did not.

At her physician’s urging, Dressler had her first mammogram. Results came back normal.

Even so, “He made it sound as if (my getting breast cancer) was not a question of if, but when. He said the percentage of patients with this gene who develop breast cancer is so high that he recommended mastectomy,” she says.

Her doctor connected Dressler with The Iowa Clinic to have an MRI test, which revealed a suspicious spot. That’s when Dressler met Michael Mohan, M.D., a General Surgeon with The Iowa Clinic Women’s Center, who explained her options.

Ordinarily, the next step would be to schedule a biopsy, but Dressler – a wife and mother of two young boys – already knew she wanted to have both breasts removed. She skipped the biopsy and scheduled surgery for August 8, 2014.

A “Surprising" Phone Call

“I thought I was being proactive. I told my boys ‘Surgery will make Mommy better,'” Dressler says. But four days after her surgery, “I got a call saying that I already had stage one cancer.”

The type of cancer that had been growing inside Dressler’s body caused her medical team to advise chemotherapy, which would reduce the likelihood that it would spread to surrounding tissue. She had four rounds of chemo in the fall of 2014.

Today, Dressler is doing well. Her hair is growing back, she has completed her breast reconstructive surgery, and Dressler’s husband and children have confidence that Mommy is better. “Life is looking up!” says Dressler.

Knowledge is Power

“I was still six years out from having my first mammogram when I learned I had cancer,” Dressler says.

“Knowing I had the (mutated) gene, I was able to get some baseline tests and meet with people who could educate me. The more knowledge I had, the more control I felt I had over my decision.”

“What might have happened if I didn’t do this proactive surgery? I don’t even want to think about it,” she says.

Should you get genetic testing? To learn more, talk with your primary care provider or call The Iowa Clinic Women’s Center at 515.875.9500.

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