Fernandina Beach woman gets life-saving surgery to reduce risk of breast, ovarian cancer

NASSAU COUNTY, Fla. — A 27-year-old Fernandina Beach woman is sharing her story of how she took her health into her own hands after discovering she had a rare genetic mutation that could lead to cancer.

Action News Jax Alicia Tarancon spoke with this young mother of three on why she made the decision to get life-saving surgery.

Haley Kelly found out she carried a rare genetic mutation called BRCA1 when she was only 20-years-old.

According to doctors those who test positive for the gene usually have an 80% chance of developing breast cancer in their lifetime and a 40% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

“My mom was diagnosed with stage 4 ovarian cancer when she was 34 and I was 9 which at the time I didn’t know about our BRCA1 mutation that we carried in our family,” Kelly said.

Her grandmother and great-grandmother both passed away from ovarian cancer.

It was the red flag that prompted Kelly to start looking into her family’s medical history.

Kelly had a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy and a total hysterectomy in September of 2021 at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

The entire surgery took 8 hours.

The mother of three admits going through such a radical surgery was a tough decision and a scary one too.

“I was a bundle of nerves for sure, you know the morning of surgery when Dr. McLauchlin came in she was the first doctor to get there to see me before my surgery and I was just weeping and she just gave me a big hug and said this is normal it’s going to be okay,” Kelly said.

Dr. Sarah McLauchlin, a professor of surgery at the Mayo Clinic said women who have BRCA1 mutations usually get their breast cancer earlier in life.

“They tend to get their breast cancer between ages 35 and 40 something like that so at a younger age whereas women who have BRCA2 mutations, they tend to get their breast cancers at a time that nears the general population when they get breast cancer so that tends to be later 50 to 60, something like that,” Dr.  McLauchlin said.

Those with Ashkenazi or Eastern European Jewish ancestry are also more likely to get this mutation.

Kelly said ultimately wanting to be there for her children is what gave her the strength to get this surgery.

“I almost lost my own mother at the age of 9 and that was enough for me to say I don’t want that for my children. I don’t want that for my husband, my biggest feat in life I always say is leaving my husband with three kids to raise on his own,” Kelly said.

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