Breast Cancer

Beth’s Story: “The unknown is scarier than knowing.”

As the saying goes, the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. That was Beth Taylor’s reasoning when she decided to take the High Risk Breast Evaluation at NorthShore University HealthSystem.

“I went for my annual mammogram at Evanston Hospital and a nursing assistant asked if I would like to take the test,” she says. “Given my family’s health history, it was a no-brainer.”

Cancer runs in Beth’s family. Her mother died of metastatic ovarian cancer. Her grandmother’s sister had breast cancer. There are also family members who have had bladder cancer, stomach cancer and melanoma.

She completed NorthShore’s High Risk Breast Evaluation before her mammogram and provided a saliva sample during her visit. Three weeks later, she learned she had a BRCA pathogenic variant, which put her at a higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer. She then met with a genetic counselor to learn about her options, which included a wait-and-see approach with additional health screenings or a pre-emptive double mastectomy and an oophorectomy to remove her ovaries.

“She easily could have gotten breast cancer in the next few years. To help prevent that whole experience by having a bilateral mastectomy, it really takes that risk off the table and allows Beth to move on with her life. That is what makes our job so rewarding,” said Dr. Catherine Pesce, who specializes in breast surgical oncology and is Chief of the Division of Surgical Oncology for NorthShore University HealthSystem. “I really believe genetic testing is the future, and NorthShore makes it so easy, offering it right there when patients get their mammogram.”

“I was 62 at the time and rather than be angry or upset about it, I decided to be proactive,” Beth says. “It wasn’t a hard decision to move forward with the pre-emptive surgeries. My family supported my decision – they said we just want you to be healthy and alive.”

Beth moved quickly and underwent the pre-emptive double mastectomy. She had a few complications, requiring her to undergo four surgeries in all. She is planning to get breast implants and undergo the oophorectomy at the same time.

She says she appreciates the support and care she received from her NorthShore team throughout her journey.

“They are always checking in to see how I’m doing,” Beth says. “They made sure I knew exactly what I was up against and all of my options so I could make an informed decision.”

Beth is a chief financial officer and was able to schedule her surgeries around her work schedule. She was also able to work remotely while going through treatments and recoveries.

“Although it’s been tiring, I’m continuing to plug away and am still working,” she says. “The surgeries don’t take long, and recovery is usually only a day or two so I can start working again right away.”

Beth says her life has changed for the better since deciding to take the High Risk Breast Evaluation.

“I truly believe I can share my story to help other people,” she says. “Since taking the assessment, I have shared my story with my family, my colleagues and other women in my life to say hey, this is something I made the decision to do and you may want to get tested, too. It has changed my outlook on life, and I savor every day.”

To anyone considering getting a High Risk Breast Evaluation, Beth says go for it.

“It only takes 15 minutes and then three weeks later you’ll find out one way or another,” she says. “The unknown is scarier than knowing. When you know, you can make informed decisions and really take control of your health.”

To learn more about the High Risk Breast Program at NorthShore University HealthSystem, visit us online or call 847-570-1700.