I have known about cancer for as long as I can remember. My great Grandmother lost her battle with Ovarian cancer prior to my birth, and my Grandmother survived her run in with breast cancer after a mastectomy. Nana had always been very vigilant with my Mum and Aunt, who both had regular mammograms – the mammograms that would one day play a part in saving their lives.
It was during the school holidays of October 1998 as I sat in the mammography office at 10 years old, reading a magazine and waiting for mum to complete her “10 minute” checkup. After waiting for over 30 minutes I suspected something was not quite right. Eventually the radiologist came out of the room and asked me to go in and see my Mum. It was painful watching Mum fight back tears as she told me they had found a lump in her breast, which was eventually diagnosed as cancer. I was very scared for Mum, who was just 39 at the time but she told me she was lucky because they had found the cancer early enough and she promised that she would be OK.
The doctors performed a partial mastectomy, followed by radiotherapy and chemotherapy which made her very ill. I was astounded by her strength and determination to get through this as she drove herself to and from her appointments alone, at times stopping on the side of the motorway to be ill before continuing her drive. Still, Mum never complained. She believed she was one of the lucky ones, which until I grew up and understood more I thought was ludicrous – mum had cancer! How could that possibly have anything to do with luck?
Once Radiotherapy and Chemotherapy were complete, Mum ensured she continued having regular check ups, which brought good news until 2003. It was the 5th anniversary of her first operation, when the doctors found yet another cancerous lump – this time in the other breast. While it was still upsetting and scary, this time around it was a little easier to deal with as we knew exactly what to expect and by this time had put our full trust and faith into the doctors. Mum had another partial mastectomy, followed by more invasive sessions of radiotherapy and chemotherapy.
Five years and many check ups later mum was FINALLY given the all clear in October 2008 – she had beaten breast cancer not once, but twice in 10 years. Her courage, her strength and her will to keep fighting the disease was second to none.
One month prior to this, in September 2008 Aunty Dianne was also diagnosed with breast cancer. By this time it was determined that my Nana, Mother, Uncle and Aunty all carried the BRCA2 gene mutation. At this time Aunty Dianne had a double mastectomy and a Bilateral Salpino-Oophorectomy (removal of ovaries), and the following month after recommendations from Mum’s surgeon and a panel of experts my Mum went in for the same procedures as a prevention tactic.
In light of this I was also given the chance to be tested for the BRCA2 gene mutation, which I discussed with my partner and chose to pursue. The results came in January 2009, which showed I also carry the defective BRCA2 gene. This came as no surprise to me given the family history, and I am very lucky to have had such wonderful love, support and understanding from my partner Steve and also the support of a number of friends. My cousin Joanne has also tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation and has already followed through with the prophylactic surgery.
I am now 22 years old and at this point I believe I will also opt for a prophylactic (preventative) double mastectomy before I turn 30, and after completion of a family I will also have a Bilateral Salpino-Oophorectomy. A lot of people see this as a drastic move, and while the choice ultimately lies with the individual, for me sitting around waiting for cancer is just not an option – I come from a family of fighters and intend to continue our legacy of beating the beast that is cancer.
Overall, the most important thing I have learned through my family’s experience with cancer is that knowledge and awareness are the best tools for the battle, which is why I have chosen to share my story. Even if just one person benefits from reading this story it has been successful – because we CAN get through, we WILL get through and as they say, share knowledge, spread hope. Cancer is a tough road but look between the lines and you will also see a lot of strength, a lot of hope and a tight family bond that is not possible without these experiences will begin to blossom.
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