Breast Cancer Month/4 Your Health

Racine woman has mastectomy before cancer could come

CREATED Oct 3, 2011

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  • Linda Caulk and her mom Marie Wasmund in Egypt.

  • Linda's family: (left to right) son Richard Caulk, mom Marie Wasmund, Linda Caulk, husband Keith Caulk.

RACINE - All week long, we've been bringing you inspirational stories for Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here, we present a woman who made a drastic move: having a mastectomy even though she didn't have cancer.

Linda Caulk, who is from Racine, said it was her way of taking control.

For her, a trip to the doctor is like a visit with an old friend, someone who saved her breasts and possibly her life.

Caulk never had cancer, but unfortunately, many of the women she's closest to have had the disease.

"My mother is a two-time breast cancer survivor, and my aunt has had breast cancer, and my great aunt died of breast cancer on my mother's side, and on my father's side, my great grandmother had breast cancer," said Caulk in a conversation with TODAY'S TMJ4's Carole Meekins.

(She also spoke this week for our series with Newsradio 620 WTMJ's Jodi Becker.)

Caulk knew she had an increased risk.

"Linda has a genetic mutation called a BRCA mutation," explained Dr. Jodi Brehm, whom Caulk visited after being tested.

Because of her genes, Caulk had an 87 percent chance of developing breast cancer.

"It kind of took me back a little bit," said Caulk.

"One of the things we tell women with this mutation: it's not really a matter of if you get breast cancer, it's more when you get breast cancer."

Caulk, a quilter who donates many of the blankets she sews, had three options - more frequent mammograms, medication or surgery to have her breasts removed.

"My immediate response was, 'No way.  I'm not doing that.  It's not happening,' " explained Caulk.

"I get asked all the time, 'What would you do?' and I tell patients, 'It doesn't matter what I would do.  It needs to be what you are comfortable with,' " said Dr. Brehm.

Caulk thought about her family, the countries she still wanted to visit with her mom.

She thought about her son, and her husband.

"My husband said, 'Linda, they are only breasts.  I want you,' " recounted Caulk.

"I think that was my moment when I started to shift and say, 'OK, maybe I will have the surgery.' "

Caulk was able to have a slightly different form of a mastectomy, a nipple-sparing mastectomy.

Doctors removed the inside tissue of her breast and placed a gel pack in its place.

The outside of her breast remained.

After surgery, Caulk would feel more like herself.

"I was able to keep my skin and my nipples.  On TV, it's kind of difficult to say, but it's the truth.

Now, as Caulk sits with her son, and jokes about wanted to become a grandmother soon, she knows that when that day comes, she'll most likely be around.

"I still have a 10 percent chance of getting cancer in my lifetime, but I went from an 87 percent chance of getting breast cancer to a 10 percent (chance).  Now, in Vegas, I would have bet those odds."

Now, she think about her story and how what she went through and help in the future.

"I think that if you have sisters, you know moms, aunts, uncles, I think men should be talking about this.  I think there is nothing to be embarrassed about."

Caulk says she gets mixed reactions about her decision.

She believes all women with a family history of breast cancer should talk to their doctor about genetic testing.