OCEAN SPRINGS, MS (WLOX) - Twin sisters from Ocean Springs faced a difficult decision recently, after learning they both carried what's known as the BRCA 1 gene.
Angelina Jolie made headlines when she decided to have a double mastectomy after learning she carried the inherited BRCA gene mutation.
Her decision brought more awareness to the risks and the preventive treatment options. Now, more women are making the difficult choice to be pro-active; and reduce their risks by having surgery.
Nicole Walton and Erica Schrock were known as the "Roberts Twins" growing up in Ocean Springs. Like many twins, they were pretty much inseparable.
So, it's no surprise that as the years passed they ended up back on the Coast to start their careers, get married, and have children. Years later, they continue to spend a lot of time together.
"We're used to going through things in life together. It's wonderful to have somebody you call your best friend through the ups and downs," said Erica. "She definitely made it easier for me to make the decision to go ahead just do it."
The decision she's referring to is life changing. It all started when Erica and Nicole found out in June of 2016 that their older sister, McCall, had stage 4 inflammatory breast cancer.
"She's very brave and it has been amazing to watch her ability to move forward and stay strong," said Nicole. "But, it has been tough."
It was their sister's diagnosis that led the twins to get a simple blood test for the BRCA gene mutation to see if they were at high risk for cancer.
"Her oncologist recommended that we get tested," said Nicole. "Erica and I are identical twins and we both tested positive."
Erica says she won't soon forget the day they got the results.
"I think I was shocked. I thought it would be something like we were just going through the motions being tested for," she said.
Once they processed the fact that they both had the BRCA gene - while at the same time watching their older sister fight breast cancer - the sisters knew what they had to do. In February 2016, both women had a double mastectomy, followed by immediate reconstruction.
"When you see what McCall has gone through, what that looks like on the other side, there wasn't any question," Erica added.
There were other factors, as well. Erica and Nicole both have families with young children, which was a driving factor for both women.
"It starts making you appreciate every day you have and wanting to be here for my children," said Nicole. "That's what helped me come to the decision."
The surgery cuts their risks dramatically.
"It's a sense of relief in some ways because the risk of not doing the surgery, of breast cancer, was as high as 80 percent. The general population has a risk of 12 percent and with the surgery, our risk is now 1 or 2 percent."
However, their battle with the BRCA gene isn't over. The mutation puts the sisters at high risk for both breast and ovarian cancer. Both plan to have hysterectomies in December to reduce their risk of ovarian cancer.
Added Erica, "To me it's worth it, but that's a personal decision everybody has to make on their own. Just do what feels right for you."