My name is Veronica and I am a BRCA1 carrier.
I learnt of my family history suddenly when my Mum was diagnosed with breast cancer at 40 years of age and sadly passed two years later.
My Mother’s father was a BRCA1 carrier and many of his sisters and further women and men throughout his family have been affected by breast and other cancers. My Grandpa informed his 5 children (my mother, aunty and uncles) to get tested and have regular checkups. Three of them tested and were all negative. My mother was the youngest of 5 and didn’t really want to know but acted as if she did have the gene so she went for regular checkups. When Mum one day found a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer, she later had the genetic test and learnt she was BRCA1 positive. I was 15 when Mum passed and I remember wanting to know whether I had the gene. Being in SA, I had to wait til I was 16 to be of age and give medical consent to retrieve this information.
Once I turned 16 and after a few counselling consultations I learnt that I too was a BRCA1 carrier. The news didn’t honestly surprise me. But the impact of being a carrier had its toll over the years. Initially, it was something that I knew I wouldn’t have to really deal with until I was older. Like many women describe it, it was a bit like having a cloud hover over you. I subconsciously always had a fear and mentality that like my mother I would get breast cancer, and it would be too aggressive, I wouldn’t win the battle. I was never pedantic about any of it. I didn’t really religiously perform physical exams on myself, but I was proactive enough to see a breast and endocrine specialist in Adelaide every 6 months for physical exams since I was 16. I would spend about 10 minutes after every physical exam talking to my doctor going over my risks. Usually, I would leave feeling good, nothing to worry about yet knowing that my risks at my current age were minimal.
I did always know, since I was 16, what I would do if I was positive. The answer was always clear – a no-brainer – I would get a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. That was probably the easiest choice for me. I did not want to risk ever getting breast cancer. The question was always when I would do it. I was ready at 16 to have the operation, but I simply had the belief that it wasn’t something that was considered until I was 30.
Curiously I attended a BRCA1 and BRCA2 information session at the Women’s and Children’s hospital where a guest speaker by the name of Tash, a Pink Hope Ambassador, told us of her experiences and how she had her prophylactic bilateral mastectomy at a young age. It was here and then I got in contact with Pink Hope and began my journey organising my prophylactic bilateral mastectomy. Online I read story after story of other women’s experiences. Some absolute shattered me, broke my heart of the pain and troubles some women had been through, and other stories inspired me to seek out what I wanted. I met another Pink Hope Ambassador, Laura, who was my age when she had the operation and I realised that the operation was very possible for me. Over dinner we discussed the operation and it was so nice to have someone, with the experience, to just talk it all through.
My surgeon was extremely good, I explained my reasoning’s for wanting the surgery and she had me ready to go and booked in within about 6 weeks. With the support of my family behind me, overall the entire process was pretty breezy. I was 22 when I had the operation, which was in July 2012. The operation itself was pretty full on. I stayed in hospital for 7 days, I was sore and exhausted. I had the tissue expanders put in but I healed relatively quickly and I was running again in 4 weeks and slowly got back into doing weights in the gym after 2 months. It has nearly been a year and I am very pleased with the results. I am lucky I have full sensation and very minimal scaring which just goes around my nipple. I am basically just as physically capable as I was before. Sometimes I get small craps in my pectoral muscle which go over my implants, but when that happens that makes me laugh more than anything. Mentally, I am much happier. I still think about the impact of being BRCA1. I still know I have to be proactive and look out for any changes and I will have my ovaries to worry about when I am a bit older too.
But for now, I feel like I have done everything in my power to be as proactive as possible and that’s the best thing women can do, which is also why Pink Hope is such an amazing charity and community of amazing individuals.