You hardly ever see her cry, but Carolyn Guffey wipes away tears as she sits at a picnic table in the park thinking about the sadness of the past, and the bright promise of the future. It’s a chilly day with a bright blue sky, and she joyfully savors every second of it.
“I’m looking forward to seeing my children get married,” she says, “I’m looking forward to gray hair.”
Guffey, 31, had a double mastectomy after she and her mother underwent genetic testing through Thompson Cancer Survival Center. Guffey’s mother passed away at the age of 48, the result of aggressive breast cancer.
“We watched her get the diagnosis at 46, we saw her go through the treatment,” Guffey says. “When she went into hospice they said it would be three to four months, but she died in three weeks.”
Guffey is going public with her story, because she wants to let other women know the value of genetic testing, and to know there is life after a double mastectomy.
“There’s nobody out there saying ‘I like myself better now than I did,’” Guffey says. “But I’m totally fine, and I sleep better at night knowing that I chose this for my family.”
Guffey believes the fear of the unknown is what scares most women. If a woman has a family history of cancer, knowing the results of a genetic test can alleviate that fear of the unknown.
“I have a daughter,” Guffey says. “I want her to embrace this, not be scared of it.”
Discovering the need for testing
Preoccupied with caring for her dying mother, Guffey hadn’t fully comprehended what it meant when she first learned there had been a genetic test with positive results. “I had no idea what that meant, I blew it off, and I kept on going,” Guffey says.
It wasn’t until later, when a lump was detected in her own annual mammogram, that Guffey gave it consideration. It was the third time a lump had shown up and since the first two had been benign, she had never felt there was much cause for concern.
When a doctor heard that Guffey’s mother had tested positive for a gene mutation, he recommended genetic testing for Guffey, too. The results were positive.
“I totally expected the results to be negative,” Guffey says. “It took my breath away for just a second, and I knew my life would never be the same.”
After a lot of research and much prayer Guffey decided on a double mastectomy, and reconstructive surgery. “I knew things would be different, and I was going to make the choice whether things were going to be good different or bad different,” Guffey says.
It was a difficult process for her, and there were moments when she wondered if she’d made the right choice. Those thoughts have given way to stronger faith and a sense of peace about the future.
“I look forward to bad days, the days the kids drive me crazy,” Guffey says. “I want life moments – I don’t want anything big and glamorous out of life – I just want to be there.”
A powerful gift
Guffey says her mother’s decision to undergo genetic testing was a gift packaged with powerful knowledge. As for the double mastectomy, Guffey says it’s not right for everyone, but she is 100 percent certain it was the right choice for her.
“Cancer won’t decide my future,” she says, “I choose my future.” Guffey also points to recent advances in reconstructive surgery. She’s getting on with her life, with her body fully intact.
However, she’s learned that she is more than the sum of her body parts. She is a wife, a mother, and a friend. The thought of what her future might have been if her own mother had chosen not to have genetic testing is a little overwhelming.
“Cancer robs people,” Guffey says. “It steals joy and families, it takes young people too soon.”
Her hope is that more women will embrace genetic counseling and testing, and also embrace mastectomy when it’s the right choice.
“Standing in front of the mirror, I can honestly say today that I feel prettier than I did before,” Guffey says.
To learn more about genetic counseling and testing, visit thompsoncancer.com or call (865) 331-2350.