CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- When Joan Belcher found out she had a nearly 90 percent chance of getting breast cancer, she didn't think twice about doing something about it.
Belcher, of South Charleston, lost her identical twin sister, Jane Ferrell, to breast cancer and didn't want the same for herself.
"I just figured I was very fortunate," Belcher, 74, said. "I felt empowered that I could do something about it...if my sister had had that opportunity, she would still be here."
Belcher underwent a preventative double mastectomy and a hysterectomy last year after testing positive for gene mutation in the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes. Doctors told her she had an 87 percent chance of breast cancer and a 43 percent chance at getting ovarian cancer.
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are normal genes, but a person's risk of cancer rises when those genes mutate.
Belcher's family has a long history of cancer. Her sister developed cancer just months after her retirement and died two years later in 2006.
Besides her sister, Belcher's mother, two aunts, and grandmother all had varying types of cancer.
Hereditary cancers are rare and account for only 8 to 10 percent of cancer cases, Dr. Roberto Kusminsky, medical director of the Breast Center at Charleston Area Medical Center, told the Gazette in May.
Belcher and her sister were close. A wall in Belcher's South Charleston home displays portraits of the women together. One shows Belcher and Ferrell as young women, their blond hair pulled back into curly up-dos. In another, the women wear matching red sweaters and haircuts.
Belcher's home used to belong to Jane and her husband, but the memories there were too much for him after she died so he decided to sell it. Belcher couldn't stand the thought of anyone else having it.
"We were very close; we talked everyday," Belcher said. "We were just as close as you could be. It was like losing my soul mate when she died."
Belcher had always suspected one day she would get cancer. She was never overly concerned about it, though. It's not in her nature to worry.
At her doctor's suggestion, she was tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations at the Breast Center.
When doctors recommended both a hysterectomy and a bilateral mastectomy, Belcher said she would have had them done the next day if she could.