Plainfield woman, 22: Double mastectomy brought 'relief'

May 14, 2013 3:31:45 PM PDT
A young Plainfield woman knows first-hand what it means to decide to have the same drastic elective surgery as Angelina Jolie.

Jessica Shaw, 22, and her sister both tested positive for a cancer gene, and decided to have double mastectomies.

"Since I was 10 years old, I knew there was a chance that would be a decision I would have to make," Shaw said.

Up until six months ago, Shaw had an 85-percent chance of developing breast cancer. Like her older sister and her mother before her, Shaw's a carrier of the gene that makes it all but certain she will develop the disease. Shaw's mother, Vicki, was diagnosed when she was just 36.

"Like someone flips a light switch. One day everything is fine, and the next day you're faced with considering the possibility of losing your life over this," Vicki Shaw, cancer survivor, said.

Vicki Shaw survived, and both her daughters got gene tested at 18. When their test came back positive, both made the radical decision to undergo a preventive double mastectomy with reconstruction.

"I remember waking up from surgery, just having that sense of relief. Like, the decision is made, it's over and now I'm in control of my health again," Shaw said.

She is first to admit the decision was not an easy one.

"There are a lot of emotional downsides to it. A lot of times you question, 'Oh gosh, what have I done to my body?' It's a very awkward process," Shaw said.

Shaw admits the surgery isn't for everyone, but said she and her sister, Heather, felt it was their best option. Heather Shaw had her surgery six months before Jessica Shaw did.

"I was sitting there thinking I could have a cell of cancer in my body right now for all I know," Shaw said.

"I'm grateful that they were able to do something proactive to lower that extremely high risk of getting breast cancer and potentially going through what I had to go through," Vicki Shaw said.

Shaw's reconstructive surgery took place in March, just in time to enjoy her last spring break as a college student. She graduated from Purdue University last week.

"I feel great. It's a great feeling to know that I just graduated from college and I get to move on in perfect health," Shaw said.

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