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Woman chooses breast op to avoid Cancer

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She didn't have breast cancer, but it was in her genes.

So Lindsay Avner, at age 23, decided to undergo a double mastectomy.

She preferred dealing with it now, before she was stricken.

"I asked myself, 'Why spend another day being so totally distraught waiting for it to happen when I could take away the ticking time bomb?' " she explained.

Her mom, Wendy Avner, was 41 when she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her grandmother was 39 and her great-grandmother 58 when they succumbed to it.

Growing up in Columbus, Ohio, Lindsay Avner saw how fear of the disease - which also afflicted her maternal aunts and cousins - ruled her mother's life.

"She was living on fast-forward - rushing, rushing, rushing - to get married, to have children, thinking she would never make it to 40," said the petite brunette.

So after she graduated from college and moved to Chicago in June 2005, she had a blood test to see if she had inherited the gene that would give her an 80 percent risk of breast cancer.

"I figured it would come up negative and I wouldn't have to worry anymore. I could go on with my life," Lindsay said.

But the result was positive.

"It turned my life upside-down . . . I was so anxious," she recalled. "I worried, 'What if a relationship doesn't work out and I don't have kids by the time I'm 40?'

"I got sick, I had migraines, I wasn't sleeping. I was running, trying to live my life before I reached 40 - like my mother."

When she asked her doctor if she should have a double mastectomy as a preventive measure, she said, "I was told, 'After you have kids, you'll think about it.'

"I figured, 'Why wait that long?' "

And so she flew to New York to see Dr. Patrick Borgen at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center.

Borgen showed her photos of patients with slight builds resembling hers, women who had only a few scars after breast surgery.

"All of a sudden, it was a matter of me making a choice," Avner recalled. "I was only going to have a couple of scars. I could have children, I just wouldn't be able to breast-feed them."

She returned to Chicago and spent the next few months "questioning if it was the right decision.

"I wondered: Will anyone love me again? What if there's better surgery down the line? Will I hate my new body?

"It kept me up at night, but I felt I had no option," she said.

She underwent breast-cancer surgery at Sloan-Kettering in late August, returned to Chicago in mid-September, and is now back at work as an assistant brands manager at Unilever.

She's scheduled to return to New York next month for breast-implant surgery.

"I was the youngest patient Dr. Borgen has done this on," she said, adding that she has no regrets.

"I thought I would have a tough time afterwards . . . but from the moment I opened my eyes, despite the tremendous pain, I mentally felt transformed into a new person. The power of peace and calmness this has brought into my life has been profound.

"I just feel like all that fear that was stored in my breasts was taken away the day I underwent surgery.

"I haven't dated in six months, but I'm ready to start again."

Borgen, who is now at Maimonides Hospital in Brooklyn, noted that "it's rare, but not unheard of" for someone as young as Avner to undergo prophylactic breast-cancer surgery.

"I didn't push her into it," he said. "The decision has to be 100 percent driven by the patient. It's an option a doctor shouldn't sell, but shouldn't withhold."

Copyright 2006 NYP Holdings, Inc. All rights reserved.

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