Strides against breast cancer - Michelle Stiles

VINELAND, N.J. - September 27, 2011

Every day this week, leading up to the walk, we will be introducing you to five women who are, indeed, making strides against the disease.

Of the five women we met, some are currently deep in their battle against the disease. Others have fought, won and are now survivors.

Today we meet Michelle Stiles, of Vineland, New Jersey, who was diagnosed with stage 1 triple negative breast cancer 6 years ago. She was just 38 years old and had only gone for a mammogram after her younger sister was diagnosed with the disease.

"We always knew it ran in the family and when she found out that she had breast cancer my husband, really, is what prompted me to go have it done," Michelle said.

In fact, generations of women on her father's side had died from breast cancer.

Doctors at Cooper Medical Center urged all of the women in the family to be tested for the BRCA gene mutation.

"What the BRCA gene is, is a gene that is a tumor suppressor gene. When it gets mutated, it can no longer serve that function," said Dr. Robert Somer of Cooper University Hospital.

Only five to 10 percent of women carry the gene, but those who do have an up to 90-percent chance of developing breast cancer.

Michelle's sister, Barb, did not survive. But because of Barb's battle, Michelle found her cancer early. And after 19 months of chemo and radiation, she is cancer free.

"I am cured! I hit my five-year mark!" said Michelle.

Because of Barb, her twin sister Brenda was also tested.

"I didn't really want to but they pushed me to and I'm so glad I did," said Brenda.

When Brenda learned she had the BRCA gene, she had her breasts and ovaries removed, all but eliminating her risk of cancer. Her daughter, Ellen, also has the mutation.

"I didn't want her to be tested. I thought she was too young. But now that I think about it, that I look back on it, I think it's awesome because now she has time to think about her future. She's only 19," Brenda said.

The overwhelming majority of women who get breast cancer have no family history of the disease. But Michelle's story really hits home why it's so important to know your history.

You can join Sunday's walk simply by logging onto 2011 Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk.