My name is Carmo and I just turned 35. Most of my mates think I have a ridiculous positive attitude. Not much gets me down. So when I found out I had the BRCA2 gene – I wasn’t too phased about it. I’m not like a lot of stories – I hadn’t experienced a close relative to me having cancer – so I didn’t really know what I was potentially higher at risk of getting. My dad passed the gene on to me – but he is fine. There was cancer amongst several of his siblings – but they lived away so I wasn’t directly exposed to it and probably a bit naive.
I went along to Peter MacCallum for my first lot of scans. It was a bit of a trek – as I’m from Mildura – it’s a whole day of flights and appointments. Reality hit when I had to take off my top and walk up to the mammogram machine. I cried the whole way through my first scan. Then I went in for the MRI – which wasn’t painful, but still pretty daunting. With the first lot of scans ticked off, I knew what to expect for next time and just took it in my stride and got it done. The initial unknown is the scariest part – then it just becomes routine. So I kept going – and I always got back the all clear. The doctors would discuss me potentially looking at a mastectomy and hysterectomy down the track – but I guess I was a little “la di da” about it all.
Life took a bit of a rollercoaster turn after a few years – my best mate was killed – which changed me completely. And not long after my long term partner and I split. I moved back in with my folks to try and get back on top of life and despite my persistence – my positive pants started to diminish. So I got busy – I hit the gym consistently, looked after myself, and dug my head into my graphic design business. It seemed like finally things might be improving.
But… They say bad things happen in threes – so when my next mammogram came back with some suspicious tissue I almost wasn’t surprised. Then I had to have a biopsy. Then a surgery to remove DCIS. My surgeon recommended a mastectomy after the first surgery. Unlike the events that had happened to me where I had no control like losing a loved one – I knew I could easily steer this situation back towards my positive vibes. Saying yes to a mastectomy was a no brainer. I just wanted it done. I probably agreed to it a little too quickly in hindsight – but I don’t regret it one bit. I see myself as incredibly lucky – almost given a “get out of jail” free card. Skip cancer? Never worry waiting for results again? Yes please.
Now I’m three weeks post bilateral nipple sparring mastectomy and silicone implant based reconstruction. I had to have a second surgery to fix a bleed – but to be honest hospital is all a blur. The nurses were absolutely lovely. Every single one. And my surgeons have been amazing. Don’t get me wrong – the first couple of weeks were tough. Really tough. I struggled and had many moments of “What the hell have I done…” But then the drains came out. And I got to come home. Then I could lie flat on my back in bed. The next day I could put on a shirt that wasn’t all buttons down the front. Then I could get my arms up high enough to wash my stinky hair. I took myself off to the shops and bought a funky bra (this is from a previous k-mart crop top chick). Suddenly I was proud of my new boobs and felt an overwhelming sense of relief. And – most importantly; I knew I would never ever have to have a mammogram again. Man it even feels good to type that. I had taken control of a negative situation and turned it into a “perky” positive.
So if you have a BRCA gene and you’re reading this – know the surgery path is tough. You will need, and I have been incredibly lucky to have had such a caring support network (including my two poochies). And award for best mother goes to mine hands down – I would be lost without her. I can’t count the number of times I’ve flashed her my boobs to see if she thinks they look “ok”. But it is true that time heals all. If I can do it – you can too. You are so much braver and tougher than you even know. And the scars? Sure you can see them, but they’re not as bad as you think – and I kinda dig them. They’re a reminder of how strong I am. I hope my story lets some of you feel less daunted about this situation which if you look at it in a positive light – can be very empowering. Now – my new boobies and I are ready to kick ass at life…and my positive pants (and positive new bra) have never felt so comfy.