Tara's Story BRCA Mutation

“My mother was just 36 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer,” says Tara Finer. Seven years later, she died — the disease was aggressive and her struggle changed my life forever.”

So, at age 36, Tara felt as though that history was repeating itself when she needed an MRI to examine an area of ‘potential concern’ in one of her breasts. When the MRI results returned as ‘inconclusive,’ but ‘probably benign,’ she panicked.

“‘Probably benign’ were the exact words my mother had heard many years before,” says Tara. “I knew at that moment I had to educate myself about breast cancer to protect my health and my life: I have a husband I love dearly and nieces and nephews who could be affected by my outcome.”

On a Mission

“I needed insight about what to do next,” says Tara, “so I tracked down my mother’s oncologist.”

The doctor unequivocally recommended that Tara go to Penn for genetic testing based on her MRI result and family history.

“It was a preventative measure that I had, which unfortunately did not exist when my mother was alive,” she says.

At Penn Medicine, Tara met with Jill Stopfer, MS, a senior genetics counselor at the Abramson Cancer Center and a founding member of the Penn Medicine Cancer Genetics Program. Jill provided insight and education, and she recommended that Tara have a simple blood test. The results would show if she carried the mutated genes specifically associated with an increased risk of breast and ovarian cancer—BRCA1 and BRCA2. 

Positive for BRCA2

The results turned Tara’s world upside-down—she indeed had a BRCA2 genetic mutation. The implications of her abnormality were clear and evidence-based: It meant that in her lifetime, she had a 60 to 80 percent of developing breast cancer, and a 30 to 40 percent of developing ovarian cancer.

“It was only a matter of time when I developed one of these diseases, not if,” she says.

Tara was determined not to revisit her mother’s experience and started to explore options to fight these diseases before they started.

Aggressive Prophylactic Measures

“I had clinical and surgical options my mother didn’t have, and I was going to take all of them,” says Tara.

She met with many Penn clinicians and surgeons, and in the end, she chose the most aggressive and life-enhancing measures: a double mastectomy, an oophorectomy (ovaries) and a hysterectomy.

Because she was young and healthy, she elected to have all of her surgeries performed at once.

Tara says, “The doctors, nurses and staff at the Abramson Cancer Center worked as a tight-knit team to provide the clinical expertise and hand-holding I needed to get through this challenging experience.”

Empowerment and Relief

“Penn puts great energy into providing personalized solutions for each person’s situation. Penn honors the fact that each person with a BRCA mutation requires a cutting-edge, compassionate and highly unique care plan.

“Exactly what they did for me and for my family,” says Tara.

Learn more about genetic testing