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2 metro Detroit women made same decision as Jolie to cut cancer risk

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Like Angelina Jolie, metro Detroit mom Anita Fabian had a double mastectomy. Like Angelina Jolie, metro Detroit mom Anita Fabian had a double mastectomy.
TROY, Mich. (WJBK) -

One of Hollywood's biggest stars told the world Tuesday about her decision to undergo a double mastectomy. Angelina Jolie said she did it to cut her risk of breast cancer, and she is not alone. Two local women made a similar choice.

Anita Fabian is a mother of three who had a double mastectomy and her fallopian tubes and ovaries removed after genetic testing showed she is predisposed to breast and ovarian cancer.

"My mom had cancer when I was 13, and she died when I just turned 25," Fabian explained. "I didn't want my babies to be without a mom."

The genetic testing and double mastectomy are the same procedure Jolie just revealed she underwent to prevent the possibility of getting the same cancer that killed her mother.

"Genetic counseling is extremely important because these are complicated decisions," said Beaumont oncologist Dr. Dana Zakalik.

The doctor said those with early onset breast or ovarian cancer or a family history should be tested. If positive for the BRCA gene mutation, a 60 to 85 percent chance of getting breast cancer can be reduced to around five to eight percent.

"If you do bilateral mastectomies, if you choose to do that, that you really are doing the most that you can possibly do to reduce your risk of breast cancer," Zakalik said.

But a preventive mastectomy is no guarantee the cancer will be prevented as I learned two years ago when I did a story with a local wife and mother who fought so courageously, but still couldn't win.

"We did everything humanly possible, and I still lost my wife," said Don Neilson. "We were aggressive as humanly possible, and I still lost her."

He lost his wife, Amy, just one year ago. She beat breast cancer once. A carrier of the BRCA gene, she had both breasts removed along with her ovaries and fallopian tubes trying to steer clear of the cancer that had killed her mother and grandmother.

"The sad thing is... they told me after this surgery she had two percent chance of getting it back," Neilson said.

They thought she was home free, then she was diagnosed with Stage 4 breast cancer. She fought valiantly, blogged about her battle, and told her story to help others.

"Just be aware that it's never a hundred percent," she told Fox 2 before her death.

Still, Dr. Zakalik said what happened to Amy is very rare. So know your family history.  The genetic testing and the preventative measures can be the difference between life and death.

"I'd rather live and see my babies get married and have grand kids versus what my mom did," Fabain said.

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