November 23, 2022 by Peter B. Laird
After Breast Cancer Journey, Survivor Gives Back
When widow Angie Taylor moved to Plantation from Maryland in 2015, she was ready to start a new chapter of her life. At 48, and with children approaching young adulthood, she felt pulled to the ocean and excited to begin a new job. Her do-over went smoothly ― at first. But just one month after turning 50 ― on July 6, 2017 ― life changed again. She was diagnosed with breast cancer. “Even though I wasn’t surprised, I was numb,” she recalled.
Watch now: Breast cancer survivor Angie Taylor talks about her diagnosis and treatment at Miami Cancer Institute. (Video by George Carvalho.)
The role of genetics
Ms. Taylor has a long family history of cancer. Both of her grandmothers had breast cancer, an aunt was diagnosed in her late 30s and two cousins were also discovered to have breast cancer at a young age. In addition, her siblings and other relatives have been diagnosed with pancreatic, stomach and prostate cancer. Armed with that knowledge, she began screenings at age 35 and always had an annual mammogram. She was about four months behind when she found the lump herself during a breast self-exam.
After meeting with Lauren Carcas, M.D., a medical oncologist at the Broward County location of Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health South Florida, Ms. Taylor underwent genetic testing and counseling. She was positive for a BRCA1 mutation, which carries with it a significantly higher risk for breast and ovarian cancer, as well as some other types of cancer such as pancreatic, melanoma and prostate (in men). In addition, her mother is Caribbean, one of the high-risk populations, along with Hispanics, for developing cancer.
Ms. Taylor took a list of questions to Dr. Carcas so that she could best understand her early stage, BRCA-associated, triple-negative breast cancer. “I felt such a sense of compassion and caring,” she said. “I walked in crying. I was a mess. I had 10 million questions and she took the time to answer them all.”
“Really, at the very core of my approach to oncology with my patients, is education,” Dr. Carcas said. “I am there to educate them about the options, about the disease, and to make sure that what I recommend is in alignment with their values.”
The implications of a positive genetic test go beyond the moment a patient receives results. If a patient hasn’t been diagnosed with cancer yet, doctors may recommend aggressive screening, lifestyle changes, medications, and sometimes prophylactic mastectomies or the removal of reproductive organs. If they have been diagnosed with cancer, they now have information that may help guide treatment and make health decisions throughout their lifetime.
With a better understanding of her early stage, BRCA-associated, triple-negative breast cancer, Ms. Taylor embarked on five months of chemotherapy to shrink the tumor before surgery. On Dec. 28, 2017, she had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. There was no need for radiation therapy. A year later, she underwent an oophorectomy ― the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes ― to prevent ovarian and other gynecologic cancers.
She has also talked with her son and daughter who, nearing their mid-20s, will soon be age-appropriate for genetic testing. “There is a 50 percent likelihood that each one of the children would also harbor this gene mutation, which means that they would have an increased risk of developing cancer,” Dr. Carcas said. Testing may be performed at any time throughout their adult life, and if they opt not to test now, they will be advised to follow screening guidelines as if they tested positive.
While this new chapter in her life wasn’t the one she had planned, Ms. Taylor said it did teach her about herself. “I gave myself permission to cry every day for eight minutes. I came up with eight minutes because I felt it was a short enough time to get it out, but then I could pull it back together and move forward.” She also learned that the women around her in chemotherapy appreciated her sense of humor.
Now she’s giving back
But there was more. She wanted to give back. “I wanted to do something to help provide free mammograms to uninsured women,” she said. “I started a non-profit, Artfull Angels, and to date I’ve helped 19 women. Out of the 19, four were diagnosed with breast cancer. They are doing great. I call them my angels. The oldest is 72, and I was able to sit with her when she had her mastectomy.”
“Angie has become an advocate for other women,” Dr. Carcas said. “She understands the importance and how lifesaving the screening studies are, but even more than that, how lifesaving the friendships that she offers these women going through treatment really are.”