Maureen Boesen has always known cancer risk was high in her family.

When Boesen and her two sisters were ages 3, 5, and 7, their mom was already receiving chemotherapy for stage 2 breast cancer. Because of the extensive family history, the girls were part of a study at a university in another part of the Midwest. Their mom was hoping to help the world better understand what was killing so many women. She was hoping to better her daughter’s chances for survival.

Because the girls were so young, and the health threat still likely years away, they wouldn’t receive their DNA test results until they turned 18.

“We knew we were part of a study,” Boesen said. “We knew our results were waiting for us, but we didn’t know what they were.”

She didn’t get the results right away. The sisters knew there was nothing they could likely do at age 18 even if their test results showed they’d inherited the BRCA gene mutation.

The sisters all waited until they were around age 21.

One sister was positive. One sister was negative. Boesen remembers meeting with the researcher to learn her results.

Eventually, the researcher told her she had, in fact, inherited the gene mutation.

“It was just devastating because I knew what breast cancer and ovarian cancer can do to a family. You know, my first question out of my mouth was, ‘Is there any chance this could be wrong?’ The researcher said ‘No.'”

Boesen walked out of that meeting determined. She was going to make decisions to save her own life. She was going to have a bilateral prophylactic mastectomy. She would schedule a surgery to remove both breasts to prevent breast cancer.

“This was me doing what I was supposed to do and this was me being empowered and me being proactive and not waiting until I have a cancer diagnosis,” Boesen said.

Read more: