Cathy Devine’s family had a history of breast cancer. Her mother, sister, great uncle and second cousins had breast cancer, some of them losing their battle with the disease. Cathy knew she was at risk, so she underwent genetic testing. Confirmed as positive for BRCA1 meant Cathy had up to an 85% chance of developing breast cancer, so she had a pre-emptive mastectomy in 1998 in Ohio.
It wasn’t an easy decision. When a doctor suggested she have the mastectomy, she resisted, and couldn’t find anyone to talk to who had the surgery. “I wanted to have another baby. I talked to every doctor I knew.”
With genetic counseling and the genetic test, she became convinced the surgery was the right thing to do. After the surgery, she learned she already had undetected breast cancer that only showed up microscopically. “I was saved from a very, very hard situation.” For nearly 20 years, she was cancer free.
Devine used her understanding of women and breast cancer from her own experiences in her career. As the vice president of bra innovation for Soma, she worked to develop better post-surgical bras for women in breast cancer treatment.
In 2015, her beloved 69-year-old aunt moved to Florida to be closer to her, and Cathy helped her navigate her breast cancer treatment at the Regional Cancer Center. Cathy met Dr. Lea Blackwell who was treating her aunt and developing a post-surgical bra. Cathy used her experience working at Soma to provide guidance to Dr. Blackwell in creating a bra for breast cancer patients. Their partnership would become even more important in subsequent years.
Even though Cathy had a mastectomy, she knew there was a possibility that some breast tissue remained, so she was vigilant about checking for lumps. When she found one in 2018, she visited Dr. Blackwell. Cathy began breast cancer treatment for a triple negative cancerous tumor that had spread to her lymph nodes. Triple negative breast cancer is aggressive and does not respond to hormonal therapy medicines. The cancer occurs in about 10-20% of breast cancers, but is found in nearly 70% in people with an inherited BRCA1 mutation.
Despite a lumpectomy and six months of chemotherapy and radiation at the Regional Cancer Center, Cathy never missed a day of work.
“Everyone valued my time, but with warmth and care,” she said. “It was a great patient experience. They recognized my humanity and my fears, and my need to return to my life.”
An avid runner, Cathy has raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research in Ohio and locally and is willing to talk to others about her experiences.
“When I had my first surgery, I wished I had someone to talk to,” she said. “I love to talk to women who want to know where they are headed. I love to be the support system for other women, like the people who supported me. My moral support and cheering squad made all the difference in the world.”
Now that she is cancer free, she hopes to continue her career developing products and hopes to make use of her patient experiences to improve the customer experience.
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