After learning she had a deadly breast cancer gene called the ‘Angelina Jolie gene,’ Beth Gary was given a devastating ultimatum.
At only 33 years old, she would have to endure several brutal surgeries to remove her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes or face the near certainty of developing a disease that killed her mother and grandmother.
Desperate to see her two children grow up, the mother, from Long Island, New York, decided to undergo an oophorectomy in 2021 and a double mastectomy the following year.
She told DailyMail.com: ‘I knew I had to find a way to break this cycle. I simply couldn’t die at 60 like my grandmother and mother.
“Every day I can make sure I’m healthy is one more day I’m here with my kids.”
Beth Gary, 35, of Long Island, New York, had her breasts, ovaries and fallopian tubes removed to reduce her risk of cancer. She is pictured above with her husband Mark, 44, and her children Callie, now five, and Wes, three.
Mrs. Gary is pictured above with her mother, who died of pancreatic cancer last year.
Pictured above is Mrs. Gary’s grandmother Joan, right, and her mother, Fran.
Mrs. Gary has a mutation in the BRCA2 gene.
Doctors say a quarter of women with the defective gene develop tumors before age 50 and 87 percent at some point in their lives.
Women with this mutation also face a 30 percent risk of ovarian cancer, compared to one to two percent in the general population, and an increased risk of pancreatic cancer.
Angelina Jolie revealed in 2013 that she had had her breasts removed after doctors said she had the BRCA1 mutation, which also made her almost certain to suffer from breast cancer.
Mrs Gary, now 35, lost her grandmother Joan to ovarian cancer when she was just five years old. At that time Joan was 61 years old.
Her mother, Fran, survived ovarian cancer as a teenager, but was diagnosed with late-stage pancreatic cancer last year at the age of 68.
He only lived eight weeks after his diagnosis.
Speaking of her motivation for the operations, Mrs Gary said as she fought back tears: “It was tremendously sad growing up without my grandmother, I often envied children who had a complete family.”
‘And now, with my mother, I feel very sad for having lost the best woman I have ever known.
“But now I know my kids are missing out too.”
When asked if she felt the operations had reduced her status as a woman, Mrs Gary said they had instead left her feeling “empowered”.
“I felt very empowered to be able to make decisions for myself,” she said.
‘I would say having my ovaries and tubes removed was a very emotional experience, one that I didn’t realize how emotional it would be.
‘My breast removal and subsequent reconstructions were more physical.
But now I don’t feel any different than I did before. Obviously it takes time to heal, but I’m moving forward from both.
‘I’ve gone back to doing everything I did before. I love kayaking with my husband, we have a gym in the basement where we were lifting weights last week.’
Mrs Gary discovered she had the mutation when she was 26 and embarked on a rigorous surveillance programme.
She had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in 2021 and her breasts removed the following year, in addition to reconstructive surgery. Mrs Gary said she had also frozen some eggs in case she decided to have children again.
Tests carried out when he was 26 years old revealed that he had the deadly mutation.
At the time, Mrs Gary was dating her now husband Mark, 44, and had no children, so she decided to embark on a screening program until her family was complete.
She went through a series of screenings that led her to undergo ovarian cancer checks every six months and breast cancer checks once a year.
However, after having her children Callie, now five, and Wes, three, she decided to move forward with preventive surgeries.
But right before the surgeries, she froze some of her eggs in case she ever wanted to have more children in the future.
“I still have my uterus, so if I wanted to have another child I could,” she said.
‘Although I thought my family was complete, the purpose of removing my ovaries was great. I’m still quite young and I’m at an age where I can still have children.’
She underwent surgery to remove her ovaries and fallopian tubes in May 2021 when she was 33 years old.
She then underwent a preventive double mastectomy in February the following year, when she was 34, with reconstructive surgery on her breasts.
It was around this time that it was also learned that his mother had pancreatic cancer.
Mutations in the BRCA2 gene increase the risk of cancer because they prevent the genes from repairing themselves.
It’s unclear why they increase the chance of breast, ovarian and fallopian tube cancer, but doctors say this could be related to hormonal changes.
About one in every 500 women in the United States (equivalent to 33 million people) has a mutation in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene.
Mutations also increase men’s risk of breast, pancreatic and prostate cancer.
The rate of women undergoing these procedures was about 3.9 percent in 2002, according to the nonprofit organization BreastCancer.org.
But the operation rose to fame in 2012, when Angelina Jolie revealed that she had undergone the preventative procedure.