A month into dating, Mackenzie Dougherty, 35, decided to tell her new boyfriend, David, that she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation.
“But I didn’t expect we would have to fight breast cancer together anytime soon,” she said.
At that point, Mackenzie had known she was a BRCA1 carrier for a few years, having undergone genetic testing after her late father’s lung cancer metastasized. It was initially shocking and devastating to hear her father carried the mutation and that she had, in fact, inherited it, but Mackenzie sprang into action.
“I was more upset when I found out my dad was positive, and I think that’s when I let myself really digest that I could be, too,” Mackenzie said. “By the time I got my results, I had accepted them—and then I felt empowered to be super proactive about my health.”
After consulting with genetic counselors and an oncologist, Mackenzie began routine preventative screenings—alternating breast MRIs and mammograms every six months. On her annual mammogram in 2019, doctors spotted a suspicious lump that turned out to be stage 1 triple-negative breast cancer, an aggressive form of the disease that is particularly prevalent for BRCA1 mutation carriers.
Mackenzie moved “full steam ahead” to schedule her double mastectomy and fertilize and freeze embryos so she and David could start a family together in the future. Soon after, she began chemotherapy.
Mackenzie says her experience with breast cancer not only brought her and David closer—he took on the roles of advocate, caretaker, and fiancé, with a postponed wedding coming up this June—but made her realize how strong she was. “I learned how capable and dedicated I am,” she said. “I took care of myself from the beginning when I found out I had the mutation. I was really proud of myself for that.”
Recently, Mackenzie found a document in her father’s things confirming that his mother (her grandmother) had breast cancer around the same as Mackenzie. She ultimately died at age 47 from ovarian cancer, which is also linked to BRCA mutations. Mackenzie feels lucky that research into inherited gene mutations like BRCA1 gave her the information and tools to be proactive and catch her cancer early. Research not only allowed her the chance to try to build a family with David, but to envision a future where her children won’t face the same diagnosis.
“I’m hopeful there will be better resources and advances in the future,” she said. “This knowledge, as well as the research BCRF is doing, makes me confident that history won’t repeat itself for me and my children.”
Read more personal stories about breast cancer from BCRF’s Research Is the Reason campaign here.
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