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Sisters battle breast cancer together

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Two West Georgia sisters are battling breast cancer at the same time.

It's not unheard of for sisters to have breast cancer.  About 10 percent of cases  are genetic, meaning the disease runs in the family.

But Lisa Maynard and Tammye Hicks don't have a family history and they don't have a known genetic mutation. Still, within three months of each other they both got the same diagnosis: breast cancer.

Lisa was the first to get the news back in January.

"I noticed my breast was kind of like tender and I kind of ran my hand across my breast, and I was like, 'This is a knot, a lump,'" Lisa Maynard said.

Lisa was five years overdue for her first mammogram. She got a breast x-ray, an ultrasound and a biopsy. At 45, Lisa found out she had stage 2 breast cancer.
   
For Tammye, who is just three years older, it was a wakeup call.

"I always got mammograms like clockwork, but for three years, I procrastinated," Tammye said. "I was like, ‘This doesn't run in our family. Hey, this is not going to happen.'"

But it did. Just three months after Lisa's diagnosis, Tammye learned that she also has breast cancer.

"When mine was discovered it was a stage 3," Tammye said. "I had no lump, I had no symptoms -- nothing.  And it had gotten to a stage 3."

The sisters went to Georgia cancer specialists at Northside Hospital's Griffin Center, where oncologist Dr. Jorge Spinolo was convinced there had to be a genetic reason that both sisters developed the same disease.

"We looked for other gene abnormalities that are known, but we didn't find those," Spinolo said.

Lisa and Tammye have no family history and neither carries the BRCA gene mutation linked to familial breast cancer. But Spinolo still believes there's a malfunctioning gene at play here -- maybe one researchers haven't discovered yet.

"Unfortunately, I cannot put a name on it, and since I can't put a name on it, I don't know what's the best way to deal with it because there's no experience," Spinolo said.

Tammye and Lisa say they'll get through treatment together, the way sisters do.

"You start looking at life totally different. I always tell people even the trees, the grass, everything looks different," Tammye said.

"I just tell everybody age 40, please please get those mammograms," Lisa said.

Although African-American women are less likely to develop breast cancer than white women, they are more than twice as likely to die from the disease. Black women are also more likely to be diagnosed at a later stage when the cancer is more advanced.

Beginning at the age of 20, women should be doing a monthly breast self-exam. From 40 on, experts recommend a mammogram once a year. 

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