1 in 8 will get breast cancer in lifetime
Local mom shares importance of genetic testing

Lori Samples of Versailles tested positive for the BRCA gene. She has a family history of breast cancer.

Mary Mattingly

Lori Samples didn’t have a choice. That’s how she and husband Brad looked at it when she learned two days after Christmas she tested positive for the BRCA-2 gene. This is the gene that increases a woman’s chance of getting breast cancer by 85 percent before age 70 and up to a 60 percent chance of a second occurrence of breast cancer diagnosis, and up to a 27 percent chance of ovarian cancer.

The genetic testing became more well-known in March, when movie actress Angelina Jolie disclosed she had the gene, and as a result, she had a double mastectomy. Ironically, when this was in the news, Lori, 34, was in the hospital for her prophylactic surgery which included a complete hysterectomy, bilateral mastectomy, and breast reconstruction.

Since Jolie’s disclosure, there has been an uptick in genetic testing for BRCA. Some countries have reported a 67 percent increase, and preventive mastectomies are up 400 percent. For the most part, doctors praise the breast cancer awareness and dub it “The Angelina Effect.” Perhaps Lori is Versailles’ “Angelina” as she too wants others to know about genetic testing to spare them from cancer.

In the family
Lori’s mother, Rosanne Mills, had invasive breast cancer at age 47. Lori’s aunt, Rosanne’s sister, Linda Works of Vevay, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012 at age 53. She was the first relative to test positive for the BRCA-2 gene. Her mother’s cousin also had breast cancer at age 55, as did a maternal great grandmother. Two male relatives died of pancreatic cancer which can also be linked to the BRCA-2 gene.

Because of this history, Lori was on the doctor’s radar. (Statistics indicate 5 to 10 percent of women have the rare gene that can develop into cancer.)

It didn’t help that a spot also had been detected and was being watched. “If her (aunt) had not been tested, I would probably have gone through the same thing she was doing, maybe 10 years down the road. By her being tested, it hopefully has saved me from what she and my mom went through.”

A nurse by profession, Lori said she just had “a feeling” she had the gene. “The next month was spent consulting with cancer specialists, genetic counseling, and physicians. “There was no rush. I was the perfect age, because age 35 is when they recommend you consider doing prophylactic surgical intervention. And we knew we were done having kids. If you want to choose a time, it was kind of perfect timing.” She laughs now and says she was most worried to have it all behind her in time for her church’s mini Women of Faith event in April that she created and organized.

From Versailles, Lori married her South Ripley high school sweetheart, Brad, and the two have three children, Cody, 11, Katelynn, 8, and Claire, 4.

“It wasn’t just my decision but both of us. We were on the same page. There was just no question. Once you receive these numbers, the percentage and risk, why then would we even have a question about it? That was our mentality.” Doctors agreed with the Samples, and told her if she was their wife, daughter, mother, they would recommend surgery.

The surgery
The couple told the kids mom needed surgery, and reassured them she would be okay, that she did not have cancer. They explained more to their oldest afterward. She was in the operating room at St. Elizabeth Hospital in Northern Kentucky for eight hours for the mastectomies, reconstruction, and hysterectomy. Prior to it, she didn’t dwell over the negatives, did tons of praying, and had the attitude, “lets take care of it and move on.” Surgery went well, but there was a complication after, and she returned to the hospital for a few days.

Emotional toll
The most difficult part for her was dealing emotionally with the mastectomy. This was a sensitive area for her and one in which she didn’t want anyone to help her with. “This was almost like a grieving that I wanted to go through alone, I didn’t want anyone else to help me in this area. Being a nurse I knew what my scars were going to look like and how devastating they can be, but I tried to focus on the reconstruction.”

After a few days, the overall pain was minimal, with the tissue expanders being the most painful part of the surgery. The breast reconstruction process requires a total of four surgeries in which Lori will undergo her final procedure in December. She feels these procedures have been a lot easier on her with her aunt undergoing the same procedures three months ahead of her. “This has been a huge help, a big reassurance to know someone who went through it,” she said. It was also a main reason she agreed to share her story, that is, if she could help someone else get through what she has gone through.

The hard part
Lori wasn’t sure how she would feel emotionally after the loss of her breasts, but is impressed with the results of reconstruction surgery. “It’s amazing how you can look normal again. Obviously there is still scarring, but I am amazed. …You look pretty natural. It’s not perfect…but it’s enough to make you feel like a woman.”

The most difficult part of all this is public opinion. She was afraid people would think she was vain, or nuts, for having implants. After all, she didn’t have breast cancer…not yet. “That was my harder battle: What do people think; I didn’t want people to be negative about this to me or my family.”

People have made flippant breast comments, and think they are making light of it, but it can be damaging and insensitive, Lori acknowledges.

It actually helped Lori when Angelina Jolie revealed her surgery and genetic testing. “It took the pressure off. I didn’t have to explain myself” because more people were aware of it. The testing was not common just 10 years ago when her mom had breast cancer.

After surgery
She went into full menopause after the hysterectomy, but is getting help through a customized, and small dosage, of hormone replacement therapy. It’s implanted into her hip, and it replaces testosterone, estrogen and she takes a pill for progesterone, “a chill pill” as she calls it. The implants are not covered by insurance, but it is worth the $400 fee every four months to “feel normal. “ She thinks hormones are often undertreated, and could be the cause for many problems women experience.

She’s had moments where she felt sorry for herself but knows there are others worse off. After all, she wasn’t sick. She didn’t have cancer. The mother of three has gained much strength and inspiration from her friend Christina Sutton, who has cancer, and also from her faith. “ I don’t have super-strengths. But I have God which is definitely a super-strength,”Lori said. The prayers and well-wishes from her church, Hopewell Baptist, were incredible, she said, and filled the role of a support group.

Her advice?

Self breast exams are important, as are mammograms for all women and even earlier for those who are BRCA positive . “Some are afraid to find out. My aunt didn’t want to know. Luckily they caught her’s early, but she had to have chemo. Realize, it can happen to anybody. You need to be proactive. I’m sure it’d be scary if I had a little globe to see what would have been had I not chosen this path…”

For those undergoing cancer treatment, she advises to set goals, to have a reason to get up in the morning. For her, other than her family, the conference in April was her impetus. Most of all, Lori advises, “do not be afraid and ask questions.” It can change, and even save, your life.


Trick-or-treat hours

Wednesday, Oct. 30
Friendship: 5 to 7 p.m.

Dillsboro: Parade, at 6 p.m, meet at US Bank., costume judging at 7 p.m.

Thursday, Oct. 31

Sunman: 6 to 8 p.m.

Friday, Nov. 1
UPDATED October 30, 2013 at 2:00 p.m.

Holton: 6 to 8 p.m.

Versailles: 5 to 7 p.m. Parade at 7 p.m. Parade goes around the courthouse square. Prizes will be awarded to best costumes.
(The Legion will have Bingo at 7 p.m.)

Milan: 5 to 7 p.m.

Osgood: 5 to 7 p.m.

Napoleon: 5 to 7 p.m.

• Batesville: 6 to 8 p.m; parade is at 6 p.m.

Don’t forget if you have decorated your home in the spirit of Halloween, send us the photo by e-mail to mmattingly@ripleynews.com.

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