When it came to making one of the most difficult decisions of her life, Leah Wood thought of her 6-year-old daughter, Avery.

Last March, Wood underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy - surgery to remove both breasts - to reduce her risk of breast cancer. Wood’s family history put her at high risk for the devastating disease, and after two personal scares, Wood knew she needed to take action.

But Wood didn’t think about the emotional and physical pain her decision would cause her. As a single parent to young Avery, Wood only thought about the pain her daughter would experience if she lost her only parent. Just six months earlier, Avery's father had passed away.

“I will never once regret this decision, because I have to be here for her,” said Wood, who is a development officer with the Edith Sanford Breast Foundation.

She works every day to raise funds to support research and patient care. Her goal is to accelerate breakthroughs in breast cancer prevention and treatment, so that Avery never has to make a decision like the one Wood had to make.

Wood’s journey started three years ago when she found a lump in her right breast. After a mammogram and ultrasound, the lump was determined to be non-threatening.

Despite this good news and Wood being in her early 30s, her family history of cancer raised concern. She made an appointment with Dr. Jesse Dirksen, surgical director of the Edith Sanford Breast Center, and a genetic counselor from the Athena Breast Health Network at Sanford to discuss her personal risk factors.

“I wouldn’t have realized how high my risk for breast cancer was without that,” Wood said.

Dr. Dirksen encouraged Wood to come in every year for a mammogram. She tried to follow his guidance, but once her busy life got in the way, time began to lapse between appointments.

Then in January 2016, a yearly physical raised another red flag. Dr. Ashley Briggs discovered a rash on Wood’s breast. Scared and concerned, Wood rushed to have a mammogram.

Luckily the test once again came back normal, but Wood knew she couldn’t ignore her risk any longer.

Dr. Dirksen gave her two choices. She could come in for alternating mammograms and MRIs every six months or undergo a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy, which could reduce her risk to less than 5 percent.

"The second option," Wood said, “scared me, but not being here for my daughter scared me more.”

She was able to meet with Dr. Heather Karu, a breast reconstruction surgeon at Sanford, and with Dr. Karu and Dr. Dirksen by her side, Wood decided to move ahead with the surgery.

“I knew I was in good hands,” Wood said. “I had no hesitation at that point.”

Wood underwent a follow-up surgery this August and is happy that she made the decision to be proactive.

“I’m still 100 percent glad I did it,” Wood said. “I thank God every day for what we have right here at Sanford and the incredible doctors and nurses.”

But Wood also knows there is more work to be done.

“My hope for the future is that Avery doesn’t have to go through this and there is a cure by the time she would have to consider anything like this.”

You can help bring us closer to ending breast cancer with your support of the Edith Sanford Breast Foundation today. Join Wood this October and support Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so no one has to face the pain and fear of breast cancer again.

When was your last mammogram?

Early detection saves lives. Schedule your mammogram today and encourage others to do the same. Breast screenings only take a few moments. A few moments may save a life.

Edith Sanford Breast Center Mission Statement: The mission of the Edith Sanford Breast Foundation is to unlock each woman’s genetic code, advance today’s prevention and treatment, and end breast cancer for future generations. We are committed to conducting groundbreaking research to find cures faster.

Please join us, and help create a tomorrow where no more of our loved ones are lost to this disease.


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