At higher risk for breast cancer, she’s vigilant about self-exams and doctor visits

The flowers on Dakoata Wilcox’s forearm are a memorial to her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 and died of a stroke at age 40. (Photo by Susan Kahn)

The flowers on Dakoata Wilcox’s forearm are a memorial to her mother, who was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 and died of a stroke at age 40. (Photo by Susan Kahn)

BY SUSAN KEETER

Dakoata Wilcox was 27 when she felt a lump in her breast during a self-exam.

“I was young,” she remembers. “I didn’t think breast cancer could happen to me.”

Still, she made an appointment with breast surgeon Mary Ellen Greco, MD, who took a family history. Wilcox’s mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer at age 30 and died from a stroke at age 40. Wilcox’s maternal aunt developed breast cancer in her early 40s and her maternal grandmother was diagnosed at age 64.

Such a family history puts Wilcox at a higher risk for breast cancer.

To analyze Wilcox’s lump, Greco ordered a diagnostic mammogram and sonogram. Imaging was normal, but clinical findings warranted a fine needle aspiration, which Greco performed at her office. It was benign. She had Wilcox undergo genetic testing, a simple blood sample taken in her office at the Upstate Community campus.

Wilcox was found to have a variation of the Rad51D gene. This variant is often benign, but since genetic profiles on Wilcox’s relatives are unavailable, it is possible that the familial genetic cancer link may be there.

A year after Wilcox found the first lump, she found another. She underwent a second diagnostic mammogram, sonogram and fine-needle biopsy. The second lump was also benign.

Because of her family history of breast cancer and her personal history of lumps in her breasts, Wilcox sees Greco every six months for breast exams, and she does self-exams in the shower weekly.

Wilcox is vigilant — and cancer free. Her message to other young women: “Don’t think cancer can’t happen to you,” she says. “Do breast self-exams. Some lumps are normal, but they need to be checked out.”

Upstate Health magazine summer 2018 issue

This article appears in the summer 2018 issue of Upstate Health magazine.

About susankeeter

Occasional contributor Upstate’s Susan Keeter has written about and painted Upstate’s Dr. Sarah Loguen, one of the first African American women physicians. Keeter created the horse sculpture in front of the Upstate Golisano Children’s Hospital and illustrated a children’s book on autism, “Waiting for Benjamin.” She’s written for Physician Practice, Upstate Alumni Journal, Cancer Care and Upstate Health magazines. Reach her by email at keeters@upstate.edu or by phone at 315-464-4834.
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