by Vicky Cerino, UNMC public relations
San Ming Wang. M.D.
It’s not very often that those affected by breast cancer come face-to-face with researchers trying to find a cure for the disease.
Brandi Preston, 22, was one of five women who met in late summer with UNMC breast cancer researcher San Ming Wang, M.D.
Dr. Wang had just spoken about the latest in breast cancer research to the local members of Bright Pink, a support group chapter for those affected by familial breast cancer — those who carry a gene that can be passed down.
It was an emotional experience for Dr. Wang.
“I use DNA material from patients to study, but that was the first time I had direct contact with patients,” Dr. Wang said. “I learned from them all how psychologically stressful it is to have a breast cancer gene — like carrying a time bomb.
“I feel more pressure when I think about the patient,” he said. “It’s not so simple anymore to think of my research work as just science.”
Preston said meeting Dr. Wang was fascinating.
“He is doing so much amazing research,” Preston said. “It gives me a lot of hope for the future.”
Preston is facing a decision of whether or not to have a double mastectomy.
Preston’s mother carried the BRCA1 gene, as did her grandmother, great-grandmother and great- great grandmother. (Both her great-grandmother and great-great grandmother had breast and ovarian cancer.)
Preston’s mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on Thanksgiving of 2000. Before she passed away in 2005 at the age of 40, she asked Brandi to be tested for the BRCA gene when she turned 19.
The test came back positive. Preston’s brother also is positive for the BRCA I gene.
The gene requires extra vigilance. Every six months Preston has a breast exam, a yearly breast MRI, ovarian screening and a pap smear.
“Knowledge is power,” she said. “Now that I know I have this gene, I can do something about it. I can monitor.
“After each breast exam I say, ‘Whew, no cancer, I’m good for another six months.’ But why wait until I develop it? That’s why I’m thinking of having the double mastectomy.”