Health Team

Raleigh woman pens story of breast cancer 'pre-vivor'

Posted May 14, 2013

— News of Angelina Jolie's preventative double mastectomy sparked a national discussion about breast cancer and treatment options Tuesday.

Debbie Horwitz of Raleigh has contributed to that conversation with two books about the emotional and physical challenges that come with the breast reconstruction process.

Horwitz knew her risk of developing breast cancer was high.

"My grandmother died when I was a baby of uterine cancer. She had had breast cancer," she said. "My mom died when I was 9 years old. She was 39. She had breast cancer."

At the age of 32, Horwitz herself discovered a cancerous lump in her breast. 

She had a double mastectomy, and documented her experience with breast reconstruction as a guide for other women called "Myself: Together Again." She later wrote a second book, "Sherri's Story," about a woman who elected to have the procedure because, like Jolie, she carried a gene mutation that sharply increases breast cancer risk.

Sherri's Story Raleigh author writes about mastectomies, reconstruction

"I'm so glad we chose to do that book with someone who had not had cancer," Horwitz said. "I think there's just a growing group out there, and they call themselves 'pre-vivors.'"

She said women like Sherri face difficult choices, but have more options than women who have already developed cancer.

"They are choosing this surgery because they want to live, and they don't want to wait for a cancer diagnosis. I think it's very brave of them to make that decision. I didn't have a choice," Horwitz said.

"A healthy woman choosing to have this surgery absolutely has more options," she added. "The biggest thing is they're healthy going into it."  


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  • ncveteranswife May 21, 2013

    kt_cary: As you have said "hereditary breast cancer is about 5-10%" which means some is due to environment & other factors as well. I still totally disagree with you regarding the genetics factor & just because someone has the BRCA1 mutation does not mean this person WILL get breast cancer during their lifetime, NO one person has all the answers, not scientists, not doctors, etc. Angelina Jolie CHOSE her path to make sure she DID NOT get breast cancer, but I guess next week if she hears about "an arm cancer", she will have both her arms removed, "just in case". As I said, it's a little "radically crazy" when you think about it.

  • kt_cary May 21, 2013

    ncveteranswife, I am a scientist that studies this type of breast cancer. Hereditary breast cancer is about 5-10% of breast cancers. These women are inheriting a mutant copy of a gene that will dramatically increase their risk of breast cancer and they will often develop cancer at a very young age typically 30s or 40s. In the case of Angelina Jolie, she had a BRCA1 mutation. This dramatically increases a person's risk of breast cancer and specifically when these people do develop breast cancer, they develop the most aggressive form of breast cancer that is often called Triple Negative in the oncology clinic (shown in many clinical studies from around the world). We have no targeted drugs for this type of breast cancer and many patients will not survive five years after diagnosis. This is not sporadic breast cancer that most women are diagnosed with where the life time risk of a woman is about 1 in 8. Genetics do play a role. This has been shown in many clinical studies.

  • ncveteranswife May 20, 2013

    I do not understand why a healthy woman would have this surgery. I do not believe genetics plays as big a part in cancer as some folks thinks it does. I think being "radically proactive" is actually being "radically crazy".

  • djofraleigh May 15, 2013

    Pre-vivor is a horrible word. They are not survivors. The term dilutes 'survivor' of cancer. They are 'radically' proactive, maybe, but not survivors.

  • sunshine1040 May 15, 2013

    The mastectomy I can see but the reconstruction is just a vanity issue as you cannot nurse a baby after reconstructive surgery. But that is a personal issue and I just hope it means these women will never have to face cancer head on again

  • albegadeep May 15, 2013

    Another article here on WRAL says Jolie had an 87% chance of breast cancer - an excellent reason for mastectomy. But this isn't the answer for everyone; it's a major surgery that comes with its own risks.