Project Runway judge Nina Garcia opens up about her preventative double mastectomy

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Nina Garcia said she felt ‘horror’ when she tested positive for the BRCA gene, which raises a woman’s breast cancer risk by up to 85 percent. 

But once it sunk in, the 53-year-old Elle editor and Project Runway judge said she felt ‘lucky’.

‘I kind of switched, and I was like, “How lucky … that I was able to know this so early on,”‘ Garcia told ABC News’ Robin Roberts today in her first interview about her preventative double mastectomy earlier this year.

Garcia told Roberts she felt compelled to share her story, particularly as a woman in the preened fashion world, because it’s ‘very important to stand up and be like, “You know what? We are not perfect.”‘

Nina Garcia shared her story on Good Morning America because she felt compelled, as a woman in the fashion world, to show 'we are not perfect'

Nina Garcia shared her story on Good Morning America because she felt compelled, as a woman in the fashion world, to show ‘we are not perfect’ 

As of 2015, Garcia started getting mammograms every six months, which is more regular than doctors usually recommend, even for people with the BRCA mutation, but Garcia wanted to be sure. Recently, her doctor saw something 'abnormal' and ordered a lumpectomy. That was enough for Garcia

As of 2015, Garcia started getting mammograms every six months, which is more regular than doctors usually recommend, even for people with the BRCA mutation, but Garcia wanted to be sure. Recently, her doctor saw something ‘abnormal’ and ordered a lumpectomy. That was enough for Garcia

What is the BRCA gene and how does it affect people’s risk of cancer?

Having a mutated BRCA gene – as famously carried by Angelina Jolie – dramatically increases the chance a woman will develop breast cancer in her lifetime, from 12 per cent to 90 per cent. 

Between one in 800 and one in 1,000 women carry a BRCA gene mutation, which increases the chances of breast and ovarian cancer. 

Both BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that produce proteins to suppress tumours. When these are mutated, DNA damage can be caused and cells are more likely to become cancerous.  

The mutations are usually inherited and increase the risk of ovarian cancer and breast cancer significantly.    

When a child has a parent who carries a mutation in one of these genes they have a 50 percent chance of inheriting the mutations.  

About 1.3 per cent of women in the general population will develop ovarian cancer, this increase to 44 percent of women who inherit a harmful BRCA1 mutation. 

Garcia first tested positive for BARD1, which interacts with BRCA1, in 2015, after undergoing tests because of a family history of cancer. 

‘So many thoughts raced through my mind,’ Garcia said. ‘I was like, “oh, my – why me? What does this mean?”‘

She then started getting mammograms every six months, which is more regular than doctors usually recommend, even for people with the BRCA mutation, but Garcia wanted to be sure. 

Recently, her doctor saw something ‘abnormal’ and ordered a lumpectomy. 

That was enough for Garcia. 

‘The news started to get worse. In January, I decided I wanted to opt for a double mastectomy,’ Garcia said.

‘I don’t think it’s a choice that every woman should make, but with my history, it was the right decision for me… it was my personal choice.’  

Going public was also a difficult decision.

Garcia shared her news in an open letter in February as Fashion Week was about to kick off and she knew her inevitable absence from front rows would be noted. 

She knew she had to do it, she said, and her husband was pushing her to, but she agonized over it.  

She thought: ‘Will I look weaker to my staff? Will I miss such a important moment that is Fashion Week for me, as the editor of Elle, a fashion magazine? 

‘I am in a business that… is so about perfection,’ she said. ‘And it’s changing… thankfully it’s changing.’ 

Going public was also a difficult decision, Garcia admits, but she knew it was the right thing

Going public was also a difficult decision, Garcia admits, but she knew it was the right thing

Garcia, pictured on Project Runway with Elaine Welteroth, is now back at work

Garcia, pictured on Project Runway with Elaine Welteroth, is now back at work

Now that Garcia is back at work, she says she is incredibly grateful. 

‘I learned that I could be very brave. I learned that … I’m strong,’ she said. ‘I think the most invaluable lesson is that you got to share your stories.

‘The message is the technology and the science is there especially for breast cancer. For that woman at home that hasn’t had her mammogram, that hasn’t had a sonogram, to get tested, for that woman at home that has a history of breast cancer in their family to get the BRCA gene test. 

‘I think it’s so important.’

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