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Sonyas Story

What would you do if you were told you were at high risk of developing breast cancer?

By Kelli Grant

What would you do if you were told you were at high risk of developing breast cancer?

How far would you go to save your life, before you were ever diagnosed?

They're questions one woman no longer has to ask because she took drastic measures to make sure she was around for her family for many years to come.

Last year this mother of three didn't know if she'd have many more days like these...playing with her kids, her husband by her side.

In fact those thoughts entered Sonya Kooima's mind ten years ago when her mother lost her battle with breast cancer at the age of 51.

“You watch a family member go through what they went through with chemo and breast cancer and those types of things and it changes your view. It changes your view of the disease,” Kooima said.

With her husbands support, she decided to get tested for a breast cancer gene mutation - called the BRCA gene.
“We were waiting for the test to come back and as soon as the test came back, you know I would support her either way but I wanted her to have it done,” said Kooima's husband Wesley.

“As soon as we found out that I was positive, it was pretty much, I knew I was going to have the surgery,” Kooima said.

That decision was made last spring, and last fall at the age of 36, Kooima had both of her breasts removed - even though no cancer was detected.

“I have three beautiful kids, a husband. I mean, why would I not do something that could possibly give me a longer life?” said Kooima.

After the double mastectomy, she underwent reconstruction surgery. But she didn't stop there.

“A woman who has a BRCA mutation may have as high as 50% chance of developing ovarian cancer. And ovarian cancer is typically a lethal cancer,” said Dr. Maria Bell.

Dr. Maria Bell, a gynecologic oncologist with Sanford Women's Health, became a resource for Kooima. And the decision was made to undergo a complete hysterectomy.

“They removed everything. The ovaries and everything and I was done having kids. We had made that decision," said Kooima.

The surgery threw this young mother into premature menopause.

“We can use hormones to help alleviate the symptoms that occur when they have premature menopause by removing the ovaries,” Bell said.

“The procedure wasn't scary but it sends you into menopause at age 36. Not something I had really I guess thought that hard about,” Kooima said.

But that was about the only thing Kooima didn't consider. As a nurse she had done her research, she knew the risks involved in surgery. And in her mind, they didn't outweigh her risk of developing cancer.

And Kooima will be the first to tell you, reviews have been mixed.

“I did have some people that did ask, 'You know why would you go so far to that point as to, you don't have cancer, why would you have that done?'” Kooima said.

Her response - seeing what cancer does to a loved one...there's no other option.

“People that have dealt with some sort of cancer in their life seem to understand a lot easier because if you see someone go through cancer and chemo and maybe if they've passed away, they're more knowledgeable about cancer and what it can do to you,” said Kooima's husband.

And Kooima's not the first person to make this decision. In fact her mother's sister tested positive for the gene and went through the same procedures.

“I see a lot of patients that have a high risk of have the mutation or actually have the mutation so we've done quite a few prophylactic surgeries. And I've also followed patients. I would say in general most of the women choose to have their ovaries removed,” Bell said.

It's a decision Kooima says she's never regretted. In fact, she says she's empowered because she had the chance to make the choice that's right for her family.

One of Sonya's aunts also had breast cancer and a cousin tested positive for the gene mutation.

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