IU Health oncology nurse takes step to break breast cancer cycle

Danielle Jenkins and her husband Zachary in the hospital during her stay for a prophylactic mastectomy. (Provided Photo/Danielle Jenkins)

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — One IU Health oncology nurse is hoping to lead by example after watching breast cancer take a toll on her family.

For many women, the twenties may be the prime time for vanity, marked by possibly finding a husband, building a career and maybe even starting a family. For Danielle Jenkins, she instead made her long-term health a priority.

“Doctors started talking to me when I was 16 about it. My family doctor who knew my mom and my aunt and then each doctor after that would bring it up and like ‘What’s your plan?'” Jenkins said.

Jenkins had a plan, she knew breast cancer all too well.

Throughout her childhood, Jenkins watched her mother and aunt battle the disease, both beating it once and then facing a terminal diagnosis later.

“And it was crazy, it both came back in their lungs and they both traveled through their bone, it was the same progression,” Jenkins said.

Both women passed away just 10 months apart. Just weeks later, Jenkins’ grandmother Phyllis Dunlap and a cousin were diagnosed with breast cancer as well.

“I was worried that it’s going to happen to all the granddaughters,” Dunlap said.

She’s now in remission and helps Jenkins care for her son Owen. Still Jenkins, with the support of her husband, took a step to try to avoid breast cancer all together. She started with genetic testing for BRCA genes.

“I was tested for 14, all 14 that are known to be linked to be linked to breast cancer and I don’t have any of them. My second cousin didn’t have any of them and my aunt didn’t have any of them. But since literally that entire generation of women had breast cancer, they said it was a non-recognizeable gene and they ruled that enough for the doctors and insurance to cover it,” Jenkins said.

At just 24-years-old, Jenkins had a prophylactic mastectomy. It’s a move the National Cancer Institute says can reduce the chance of breast cancer developing up to 90 percent.

“My mom was worried about my brother and then my aunt was the same way, so I’ve seen it and yeah, I didn’t want to be saying the same thing about my son,” Jenkins said. “I look at him and it’s like, that was the right choice.”

Jenkins says becoming a mother after her mastectomy did come with a new set of challenges, such as not being able to breast-feed. Still she says she doesn’t regret the choice at all. She hopes by sharing her story during Breast Cancer Awareness Month more women will be proactive in order to dodge this disease.

If you think you may have a genetic link to breast cancer, talk to your doctor about genetic testing. Even if you don’t have one of the 14 BRCA genes, there’s a chance with a strong evidence of breast cancer in your family, insurance could cover an elective mastectomy.