Nicola's Story

I knew that the chances of beating this cancer is low to none, I’m watching my Mum go through her second round of chemo and I know lots of people who have died and are dying of it. In fact I was much better than calm, I was excited. I was excited that I had a chance to beat a disease that has been killing off the females in my Mum’s side of the family for four decades. Why sit and wait for it when the odds are so high? When I was presented with the facts and told it’s probably not if, but when, there was no decision to make. I would have had the surgery the following day if I could.

I was confirmed BRCA positive in 2008. Knowing our family history and understanding that we had a 50/50 chance of inheriting this gene, my sister arranged genetic testing for us. The three months wait felt like three years, but in hindsight, this gave me the time to decide what I would do if the results came back positive. Which they did for me (my sister was negative). To be honest I can’t really recall how I felt, I definitely wasn’t shattered or scared. The first word that comes to mind is ‘practical’. I now had things to do and people to see.

The first being my Specialist who I was certain was going to put me on ascreening programme and tell me she would see me every six months. She did this too, but also sent me for a mammogram and discussed my options. But there was only one option for me. I couldn’t sit and wait for it. I didn’t want my life to hinge around the next MRI and the next and the next.

I was being told if you don’t have your breasts removed there’s a good chance you’ll get cancer. If there was one thing I wasn’t going to do, it was have chemo. I was watching my Mum go through this and it was awful. I would do anything I could to prevent having to go through that. So decision made. Now I had to decide what type of reconstruction – the choices where overwhelming. I met with four Plastic Surgeons in New Zealand and three in the United States. They all agreed on the same reconstruction, a DIEP. So a DIEP it was. Only problem is, it’s quite a lengthy procedure (approx 10 hours) and at that time it could only be done in our public system. I quickly learnt that the success of a DIEP requires a highly skilled micro surgeon with a damn good team. Thankfully I found a damn good surgeon and he had a damn good team. I put my awesome recovery, nice new breasts and ability to go into this relaxed down to Jeremy, Sally, Dylan and their colleagues at the Christchurch Public Hospital.

It’s now 3 months out. How do I feel? Lucky! Very lucky. If we hadn’t discovered the BRCA gene in our family my Mum would not have survived this long and I would more than likely be in her position at some stage in my life. But I'm also cross and frustrated. Cross that my Mum is so sick and frustrated that we didn't learn about BRCA earlier so that she could have had prevenative surgery.

Unfortunately with BRCA, it of course, doesn’t end with my breasts. The next stage for me is the removal of my ovaries. Again the decision to have the operation has already been made. It’s now a matter of when. I am 35 and haven’t yet had a family. I feel frustrated that there is no screening.

I don’t believe that you are safe until your 40; I have met too many people who have got ovarian cancer in their 30’s. I am scared I’m going to get the timing of this next decision wrong.

So, to my Mum and my Aunty who are currently having chemo and those in my family who have passed away, I thank you all so much for this gift of knowledge. I will treat it as a gift and I will beat it, not just for me but for you too.

Since writing this story in 2010, my dear Mum and best friend has lost her battle with ovarian cancer. It was the hardest time of my life. I got to tell Mum that I was pregnant 3 weeks before her death. She was very excited. So now I am starting a new chapter. I'm about to be a Mum. I feel the clock ticking like never before. Do I go for a second child and risk another couple of years with these ovaries, surely we're due for some good luck. Or do I count myself lucky and get rid of them now. I just don't know.

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