Paige More agreed to get tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation when she was 24, not fully understanding the potential ramifications. But her dad’s family had a history of cancer, from his mother who died of ovarian cancer, to his aunt and grandmother who both had breast cancer.
“My mom just kind of had a feeling,” More, now 24, tells PEOPLE. Her mom’s suspicions were quickly confirmed when More’s test results came back positive, meaning she was now 55 – 65 percent likely to develop breast cancer.
“I was just completely overwhelmed, because I didn’t understand what it meant,” she says.
More, a talent booker on Good Morning America, learned she had two options — go for regular checkups to see if she gets cancer down the road, or get a double mastectomy now to eliminate the chance.
“It was this huge daunting feeling, because I was making this huge life decision and either choice was really going to change my life,” she says. “Even if I choose to do the surveillance, I’m choosing to spend so much of my life in the doctor’s office. It felt less like a surveillance and more like I was waiting to get cancer, and I’ve never been that person. I wanted to just tackle this thing for my life and my future.”
She took time to make a final decision, eventually setting up her surgery for January. More had no intentions to share that she was getting a double mastectomy, but after her surgery, she set up an Instagram page to document the months after becoming a “previvor,” largely for her 13-year-old sister, who has yet to be tested for the gene mutation.
“While I was home recovering, I just didn’t want her to think that this is scary,” More says. “I wanted her to look at me and feel strong and proud and beautiful. I just hope that in a couple years when she gets tested, god forbid I hope she’s not positive, but if she is she can think back to this and say that I can do this too.”
And almost immediately, the New York City-based More developed a community of fellow previvors, survivors, and women battling breast cancer.
“It’s honestly the most amazing feeling, I can’t even put it into words. I never expected such a beautiful amount of support,” she says. “I call them my breast friends. You’re instantly connected to these people, even if you don’t actually know them. They’re in London, they’re in Australia, they’re all over the world, but you’re connected because you’ve been through something that instantly bonds you at a very intense level. It’s really amazing.”
The entire experience, from the double mastectomy, to her new-found Instagram community, to walking in NYFW, completely changed More’s perspective on her body.
“I realized that all different shapes and sizes look sexy,” she says. “The idea in our brains is that breasts make you feel like a woman and breasts make you feel beautiful, and that’s just not the case. It doesn’t matter if you have big boobs or little boobs, real boobs or fake boobs.
“I really was scared, was I making the wrong decision? But this is the best choice I’ve ever made. I no longer wake up worried that this is going to be the day I get cancer, or the day I find a lump. I look in the mirror and see my scars as strength, and I see the new shape of myself. I saved my own life. There’s nothing sexier than that.”