FORT LAUDERDALE. Fla. – Broward Health plastic surgeon Dr. Tracey Stokes has an intimate relationship disease.
It began 30 years ago when her own mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.
"At that time, I was 15 years old and she was 40 years old," Stokes said. "My dad said, 'I hope she lives long enough to see the kids graduate high school,' because he didn't think he could do it on his own, and she's alive today."
Watching what her mother went through was part of the reason Stokes chose to specialize in breast cancer reconstruction and closely monitor her own potential risk over the years.
"I was very diligent about getting my mammograms, my ultrasounds, alternating that every six months with MRIs for screening purposes," she said.
But three years ago, when her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer and tested positive for the BRCA-1 gene, Stokes knew she needed to do more.
"So then I got tested and discovered I carried the same BRCA-1 mutation," Stokes said.
She then decided to take a proactive approach. First, she had her uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries removed and then went in for a double mastectomy.
"And they end up finding a very small, early stage, luckily for me, breast cancer in my right breast," she said.
Stokes said her journey from doctor to patient was an eye-opener that changed both her personal and professional perspective.
"I think I've become a lot more compassionate, a lot more patient with my patients -- listening to their stories, because I really do understand what they've gone through because I've gone through it myself," she said.
While breast cancer screening is typically started at age 40, people like Stokes, who have a family history of the disease, should begin screening earlier and consider genetic testing.