The “Today” show’s lifestyle contributor Jill Martin revealed Monday that she has been diagnosed with breast cancer after learning that her father was a BRCA gene carrier.
In an emotional appearance on NBC’s morning show, and in an accompanying essay published on the “Today” show website, Martin shared that she was diagnosed on June 26 after a slew of mammograms, tests and screenings. The 47-year-old was considered at high-risk for breast cancer because her grandmother died from the disease — the most common cancer diagnosed in women in the United States — and her mother had a double mastectomy in her late 40s before her breast cancer turned invasive.
Her mother, however, tested negative for the BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations 20 years ago, erroneously leading Martin to believe that she was not at as high a risk for the disease.
After genetic testing, Martin was told that she tested positive for BRCA 2 — and her father was too — meaning that they carried the gene mutation known to pose a cancer risk.
“Because of those positive tests, which I will be forever grateful we took, my father will get screened and stay vigilant about breast, prostate and pancreatic cancer, which he now knows he’s at a higher risk for,” she wrote. “And because of that test, I had a sonogram and an MRI and it turns ou t… I have breast cancer.
“I am telling this story now because I couldn’t go through months of operations, and start to recover both physically and mentally, without shouting from the rooftops telling everyone to check with their doctors to see if genetic testing is appropriate,” she added.
Sitting down with “Today” co-anchors Hoda Kotb and Savannah Guthrie on Monday’s episode, Martin said that the test saved her life six weeks ago, even after she had been vigilant about getting mammograms and proactive about her health.
“Had I not gotten the test, I wouldn’t have gotten the scans and we would be telling a very different story,” she told her colleagues. “So I feel super grateful to be here, to be able to say: talk to your doctors and go get tested.”
The “Fashion for Dummies” author was joined by her doctor, Elisa Port, Mount Sinai Hospital’s chief breast surgeon, during the appearance to discuss the scientific aspects of the diagnosis.
“Mammograms do save lives and they are still the No. 1 way to detect breast cancer. But no test is perfect and mammograms certainly aren’t,” Port said. “And they pick up about 85 to 90% of cancers, but not 100%. And that’s why we screen and recommend screening high-risk patients, adding on other imaging tests to close that gap.”
Port is set to operate on the “Steals and Deals” and “Ambush Makeover” segment host this week. Martin will have a double mastectomy and will begin the reconstruction process with a specialist at Mount Sinai. She has also been advised by her obstetrician/gynecologist to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in a few months as part of the preventative surgery process because she is now at a 20% increased risk of getting ovarian cancer.
“That is not a percentage I am willing to live with,” Martin wrote, adding, “I have had some time to process, so now I’m in get-it-done robotic mode. Different people cope in different ways; for me, I am not hiding under the covers crying. Instead, I want to do everything I can to beat this and protect my family.
Martin encouraged readers and viewers to get informed by talking to their doctors about genetic testing and cancer risks, understand that breast cancer can go undetected by a mammogram and know the effect of genetics on children.
Martin hoped that her news would spur something referred to in the medical field as “the Angelina Jolie Effect,” referring to the spike in people who got tested after the Oscar winner revealed in 2013 that she was having preventative surgery after losing her mother to breast and ovarian cancer and testing positive for the BRCA gene herself.
“Do you know how many lives she likely helped save? My guess is a lot,” Martin wrote.