October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Our good friend Jess has kindly shared her story to help raise awareness in our community.
My daughter Margot was born in May this year and we both have the same middle name, Lise. I never met my grandmother, Lise (my father’s mother) who passed away at the age of 34, when my dad was only five years old. But Lise’s story was handed down through the family and not hidden away. Part of that story was that she had died far too young from an aggressive form of breast cancer.
In a roundabout way Margot and I have Lise to thank for securing a future that was almost taken away from me.
When my doctor uncle started working with a genetic professor, we decided to look into genetic testing, which had only recently come into the public spotlight through the awareness raised by Angelina Jolie.
While most breast cancers are not associated with a genetic cause, around 5% of breast cancers are caused by an inherited gene fault. For the very small proportion of us who carry the high-risk gene fault known as BRCA1 or BRCA2, the lifetime risk for developing breast cancer occurring is up to 80%. In October 2016, my dad, sister and I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. This meant that we had a much higher risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer compared with someone who doesn't have the gene mutation.
We were given pamphlets with graphs that indicated I didn’t need to worry about breast cancer until I was much older. We were told to live our lives like we normally would. My sister and I had not had children at the time and the message was, have your family and then think about it. We were told we would need to undergo screening every six months, alternating between an ultrasound and an MRI.
My first ultrasound in December 2016 was clear. The next MRI on my 30th birthday revealed a one-centimetre tumour. What followed was a biopsy that led to a diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive non-hormone related cancer. Because of Lise’s story, I always knew there was a risk I could get cancer; I just didn’t think it would happen so young.
A lumpectomy removed the tumour and was followed by five months of gruelling chemotherapy. In January 2018 I had a double mastectomy. There was also the risk that chemo would cause me to become infertile, so the suggestion was put forward that I slot in a round of IVF between the lumpectomy and chemotherapy. It was a lot to take in obviously, but I had no time to think about it. My husband and I knew we wanted to have kids, but we hadn’t really contemplated it would be this way. In a whirlwind of scans, tests and doctors, I also became a human pin cushion.
As women we are so quick to shut down a worry or put aside a concern due to the fear of being dramatic, or that time simply doesn’t allow us the space to get ourselves to the doctor. I am grateful for the fortuitous timing of my MRI, otherwise the outcome could have been vastly different. Being vigilant, seeking answers, being brave and not letting a niggle or pain continue is the only way we can take control and ensure we are not putting ourselves at risk. I am part of the generation of women who get to save our lives and all of us are linked to women who did not get that chance.
October is breast cancer awareness month. By supporting the National Breast Cancer Foundation (NBCF), you are supporting world-class research; research that will help us detect tumours earlier, improve treatment outcomes, and ultimately, save lives. The NBCF receive no government funding, and need your support to change the statistics.
You can donate here www.nbcf.org.au/donate/