University of Pennsylvania Health System

Focus on Cancer

Friday, October 4, 2013

"It Seemed Like Breast Cancer Was Always There" - A Previvor Shares Her Story

Photo courtesy of Katie Bradford Osborne
Pamela Badolato lives in Berwyn with her husband, 4 year old son, 2 year old twins, and newborn baby. Despite having four children aged 4 and under, she loves spontaneous adventures and having new experiences with them. Pamela is the Associate Publisher of Main Line Parent and Philadelphia Family Magazines.
I remember sitting in our kitchen, and hearing my mom trying to explain to my sister and I that she found a lump in her breast. At 9 years old, breast was still a word that made me giggle- yet I knew this conversation was no laughing matter. Just 10 months prior my great aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, too. And I knew that her mother, my great grandmother had died of breast cancer. From then on, it seemed like breast cancer was always there- someone my mother worked with, the sister of a family friend, etc. Maybe we kept finding the breast cancer survivors… or maybe somehow they kept finding us.

Nearly three years ago I made the decision to get tested to see if I carry the same genetic mutation that my mother tested positive for since we have a strong family history of breast cancer, and my mother was just a few years past being diagnosed a second time. I never considered that the test results would be negative, not because I’m a doom and gloom person but because I just felt it. It’s like I could feel the mutation coursing through the branches and leaves of my family tree, right into my DNA. For many years I did not want to be tested, did not want to know that I was for sure a ticking time bomb for cancer. I planned to live healthily, and make choices that could help to keep cancer at bay. But then my OB/GYN talked to me about the test and my risks, and with a 2 year old and 6-month-old twins at home I knew right then I couldn’t risk anything. I had to know. I had to do whatever I could to be their mom for the rest of my hopefully long life.

Photo courtesy of Kara Raudenbush Photography
I met with a genetic counselor to learn more about BRCA genetic mutations with my husband, and we decided that I would begin breast and ovarian cancer surveillance with ultrasound, blood work, mammograms, clinical breast exams, and MRI while meeting breast surgeons and researching reconstruction options. With a BRCA genetic mutation there is also ovarian cancer to consider, however I was too young for consideration to remove my ovaries and fallopian tubes based on my family history and age. I made the decision to go ahead and have a prophylactic double mastectomy in May 2012. That spring I wasn’t feeling well, with several symptoms on the ‘watch list’ for ovarian cancer so I went to see my doctor. The ultrasound revealed that my ovaries were just fine, and in fact I was not ill- I was pregnant!

My surgery has now been postponed, and my new daughter is 9 months old. I’m enjoying being able to breastfeed her, as that is something I would have been heartbroken not to be able to do if I had gotten pregnant again post-surgery. As a nursing mother my surveillance options are limited, which is a risk because I cannot have mammograms or MRI. I'll revisit my surgery decision in the spring of 2014, new research comes out all of the time and my team of doctors and I can re-evaluate my options. I share my story because people think breast cancer happens to women over 50, or that the genetics of breast cancer got blown out of proportion when a celebrity announced her decision recently. I am a real person, a young person, who has a mother who was diagnosed with breast cancer twice before the age of 50, whose great-grandmother died at 47 from breast cancer .

We cannot change our DNA or history, but I can help change my future and do what I can to be around for my four children, my husband and my family.
The breast cancer program at Penn's Abramson Cancer Center offers Genetic Testing and Counseling for patients and families at increased risk for cancer and related genetic mutations.
Learn the facts and request a consultation today.


  1. An amazing woman with an amazing outlook. You are an inspiration Pamela!

  2. I knew you were amazing before I read this, but this is something else. Wishing the best for you, Pamela. Sharing your story will, without a doubt, inspire others!


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