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Woodland woman gets preventive mastectomy after BRCA gene test

Kayla Christensen, 24, decided to have a preventive double mastectomy

By , Columbian Health Reporter
5 Photos
Kayla Christensen, second from left, at the novice and open classes of the National Committee's Pacific Coast Championships in May in Lincoln City, Ore. She finished in third place in the open class.
Kayla Christensen, second from left, at the novice and open classes of the National Committee's Pacific Coast Championships in May in Lincoln City, Ore. She finished in third place in the open class. (Photo provided by Kayla Christensen) Photo Gallery

WOODLAND — Kayla Christensen was only a tween when her mom was diagnosed with breast cancer, but she remembers enough about the journey: the surgery to remove the cancerous tissue, the radiation, the chemotherapy, the sickness, the lost hair.

She remembered enough to know she never wanted to endure what her mother did. She also knew her grandmother and aunt had fought similar battles. So when, at 23, Christensen learned she had a gene mutation that meant she had a 90 percent chance of receiving her own breast cancer diagnosis, the decision to go under the knife for a preventive mastectomy wasn’t difficult.

“It was a hard thing to watch, just to watch her lose her hair and be sick all the time,” Christensen said of her mom’s treatment. “I knew. I don’t ever want to go through that.”

“It wasn’t a super hard decision,” she added.

So, a few weeks after her 24th birthday, the mother of two young boys had her breast tissue removed and expanders placed in her chest. Christensen knew the procedure would mean several months with the expanders before they could be replaced with breast implants. But what she didn’t expect was the damage those expanders would do to her body image.

“Since I can remember I’ve had boobs,” Christensen said. “So to cut them off was shocking.”

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“You have three months with expanders,” she added. “You can’t do anything about how they look.”

So Christensen decided to work on the areas of her body she could do something about. Three weeks after her September 2015 mastectomy, Christensen was in the gym. Initially, Christensen’s goal was just to get in shape, to be healthier. But that soon changed.

On New Year’s Eve, Christensen underwent surgery again, this time to replace the expanders with implants. At the time, she made a New Year’s resolution: to compete in a bodybuilding competition within two years.

But soon after, Christensen decided to move up her self-imposed deadline. She started working with a trainer on the internet and signed up for the National Physique Committee’s Pacific Coast Championships, a bikini competition in Lincoln City, Ore., in May.

“It was kind of just a way to cope,” Christensen said of working out.

For five months, Christensen followed a strict meal plan. She prepped her food for each day, eating almost exclusively out of Tupperware containers. She woke up at 5 a.m. and spent two hours in the gym.

After her morning workout, Christensen worked a full day and then spent the evenings with her sons, Karsen, 4, and Luke, 2. As the competition date approached, Christensen added an evening gym session, too.

Christensen competed in the novice and open classes. She didn’t place in the novice class, but she took third place in her open class.

“It’s really fulfilling when you work that hard to see it all come together,” she said. “I’d love to do it again.”

But for now, Christensen is taking some time off from the gym.

In June, she underwent a procedure to remove fat from her legs and put it in her chest — the last step in her reconstruction — and the healing took a little longer than previous procedures. Earlier this fall, Christensen and her longtime boyfriend, Brice Templeton, bought a house in Kalama and their oldest son started school.

Once things settle, though, Christensen has plans to get back in the gym and has set her sights on next year’s Pacific Coast Championships.

While Christensen’s original intention of enrolling in the competition was to boost her own confidence, she’s found that she’s inspired others who have undergone mastectomies or are considering their own reconstruction surgeries.

Given her family history, Christensen is grateful she underwent the genetic testing and preventive mastectomy. The gene mutation also means she has about a 30 to 40 percent chance of developing ovarian cancer. She’s decided to wait to undergo that preventive surgery, opting instead for monitoring.

But she has no regrets about the preventive mastectomy.

“I’m really glad I did the top surgery,” she said. “To not have to worry about (breast cancer) is amazing.”

Columbian Health Reporter

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