“Jogging into the Future”

Johnson family dressed up and smiling.

Kim and Erik Johnson with their children. The Johnson family is thankful for the compassionate care Kim received at Parkwest Medical Center.

Genetic Testing and Preventive Surgery
Brighten Health Outlook for Knoxville Woman

Healthcare professional Kim Johnson has always kept an eye on her health. With a diagnosis of melanoma (skin cancer) in her past, she now takes preventive measures for herself and her family, including routine exams. After genetic testing revealed multiple cancer-causing mutations, Johnson underwent a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery to prevent the development and spread of cancer cells in her breast tissue. Thanks to the expert team at Parkwest Medical Center, Johnson is a living testament to the benefits of taking action in the right moment.

Living Faithfully
Johnson has faith and hope that God will provide protection and comfort, no matter the hardship. She has four young children and a close relationship with her siblings, niece and nephews. It was after turning 40 and having her first mammogram that she began to think about her breast health and family history of breast cancer. After the mammogram was inconclusive, Johnson was referred to the Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center, located at Parkwest Medical Center. She underwent a 3D ultrasound and a biopsy of tissue was taken for testing. The biopsy was negative for cancerous tissues, which meant she wasn’t facing a cancer diagnosis – a welcome piece of news. Knowing her grand- mother and two aunts had previously battled breast cancer and wanting to be an example for her sisters, Johnson decided to pursue genetic testing at the Breast Center. The non-invasive tests indicated rare genetic mutations that put her at a high risk of developing breast cancer and other cancers later in life.

A Big Decision
“It was concerning, and I was surprised at the initial results,” Johnson shares. “I have a twin sister who ended up having the same genetic mutations as I did. I have a younger sister who could also have been at risk. “My thoughts immediately went to my family. I want to stay around for my kids. None of us knows the number of days we have left. I wanted to increase the likelihood of being around for my family.”

At age 42 and already having had children, Johnson was a candidate for a preventive mastectomy. In this procedure, the breast is removed to prevent the development of cancer in high-risk women. Her surgeon was William C. Gibson, M D, FACS, general surgeon at Parkwest Medical Center. Dr. Gibson says that without intervention, the genetic mutations linked to cancer and Johnson’s strong family history would have put her at about 75 percent risk of developing breast cancer and possibly other cancers. It was after much conversation, prayer and research that Johnson decided to have preventive surgery. In March 2023, she underwent a bilateral prophylactic nipple-sparing mastectomy. Both breasts were surgically removed and implants were later inserted. “I’m grateful to have caught and identified the risk before it turned into cancer, Johnson says. “I have no regrets.”

Worth the Risk
Post-operation, Johnson’s risk of developing cancer went from 75 to 1 percent, says Dr. Gibson. “Kimberly did extremely well. We did thorough imaging and testing to make sure no cancer was present. Because none was present, we could take preventive steps and address the risk on the front end. If cancer had been present and we were treating existing cancer cells, that would be a different story.” He added, “Those who could benefit from genetic testing are typically people with a strong family history of cancer, or women who have already had a cancer diagnosis before age 50. Anyone who is curious about it should consult their primary care physician.”

Confidence at Parkwest and Beyond
Johnson says, “I knew Dr. Gibson would be meticulous with my case; he is amazing to work with. This was a big decision to make, but I had no trouble going through with the surgery under his care because I had all confidence in him. He also helped me find peace of mind. “My faith and belief in God gave me hope and helped guide some of these big decisions,” she says. “I know surgery is not for everyone. There are so many factors that come into play. I encourage people to be in tune with their bodies and use that knowledge to empower them to take healthy steps for themselves.”

She has returned to her healthy self, working as a physician assistant and being an active mother. Her children are learning to swim and they enjoy playing sports with their cousins. Johnson has returned to running and weightlifting and says she is “jogging into the future” with an open heart and a resolve to stay healthy. For more information or to schedule a mammogram at Parkwest Comprehensive Breast Center call 865-373-7010.

Headshot of Dr. Gibson
William C. Gibson, MD

Is Genetic Testing Right for Me?

How Does Breast Cancer Screening Work?
A mammogram is a specialized medical imaging procedure that uses low-dose X-rays to see inside the breast. It’s a quick and easy test that can save your life. In addition to imaging, Parkwest Breast Center provides a Lifetime Breast Cancer Risk Assessment at the same time as the patient’s mammogram appointment. From that assessment, practitioners may recommend that certain patients who may be at a high risk of developing cancer seek genetic counseling and testing, especially if they have a family history of cancer. Patients can begin the genetic counseling process while at the Breast Center if they would like to do so.

What is Genetic Counseling and Who Should Seek It?
William C. Gibson, MD, FACS, general surgeon at Parkwest Medical Center, says, “I spend time counseling and discussing the risk of developing breast cancer with those who may have a high risk due to a genetic mutation.” Dr. Gibson advises, “A lot of times, the genetic mutation is not discovered until after someone receives a cancer diagnosis. This is why we recommend that family members of someone diagnosed with breast cancer seek genetic testing.

When is Surgery Recommended?
A prophylactic (preventive) mastectomy, or removal of one or both breasts, is a surgery women may undergo when they test positive for the BRCA gene or similar mutations. Dr. Gibson says, “For some, the decision to pursue preventive surgery is right for them. My role as a counselor is to explain the risk and statistics of malignancy. “We also follow young women whose mothers have been diagnosed with breast cancer and we present genetic testing as an option,” Dr. Gibson says. “Whether or not you have family history and genetic mutation, be diligent with annual mammograms. These screenings detect cancer early, and early detection leads to good outcomes and excellent long-term survival.”

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