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Autumn Landos - Breast Cancer Survivor

Family ties: A mom’s genetic test prompts a young nurse’s surprising cancer screening and personal treatment decision

Breast cancer under 40: A young nurse shares her surprising cancer journey

When 38-year-old Autumn Landos walked into Virginia Mason Franciscan Health breast surgeon Lynne Clark’s office in 2016, she was more concerned with her mother’s health than her own. Autumn’s mother had just been diagnosed with breast cancer, and Autumn drove her to the appointment for moral support.

During the appointment, though, discussion turned to the family’s strong history of breast cancer. Genetic testing had revealed that Autumn’s mother carried the CHEK2 genetic mutation, linked to increased risk for cancers of the breast, prostate and colon. Although Autumn hadn’t tested positive for the mutation herself, her mother’s positive result vastly increased her own risk for cancer.

This wasn’t a surprise to Autumn. A licensed practical nurse, Autumn was proactive about her own healthcare, and she’d gone in for a mammogram six months earlier. The results showed no sign of cancer. She’d planned to continue regular mammograms and self-breast-exams to stay healthy.

But Dr. Clark encouraged Autumn not to wait for another mammogram. She suggested that Autumn have another scan, this time via MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) at the newly opened Virginia Mason Franciscan Health clinic for patients at a high risk for breast cancer.

The MRI results delivered a shock: The images showed two suspicious areas, one in each breast. Both areas were biopsied, and while the suspicious area in the right breast was benign, the one in the left breast was cancer. Fortunately, the cancer was discovered at any early stage, and it hadn’t spread.

After her diagnosis, Autumn decided she wanted this brush with breast cancer to be her last. She opted for a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery, which allowed her to skip chemotherapy. With no remaining breast tissue, Autumn’s risk of developing breast cancer in the future would be greatly diminished.

Dr. Clark performed the double mastectomy in October 2016, which was followed by reconstructive surgery in March 2017 by Virginia Mason Franciscan Health surgeon Todd Willcox, MD. Even though Autumn’s treatment involved multiple surgeries, skipping chemotherapy meant she had enough energy to care for her mother during her recovery.

Today, both women are healthy, and Autumn is passionate about helping young women learn more about their risk for breast cancer. “You don’t have to wait until you’re 40 for a mammogram, but there are other screening tools, too,” she said. “If you have a family history of cancer, you can get an MRI. And there are treatment options that preserve your quality of life.”

Genetic testing can be a valuable tool, but it’s still emerging, she said. “Genetic testing can’t always tell you everything.” That’s why other types of screening are vital, she said.

Each person’s cancer diagnosis is unique, and their treatment plans should reflect their own health history and goals, she said. “The team at Virginia Mason Franciscan Health supported my decisions and helped me get the treatment that worked best for me.”

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