My name is Christine and this is my story.
It is not overstating things to say that knowing about your family history and acting on that knowledge saves lives. I know because doing just that saved mine.
With a long and sad association with breast and ovarian cancers, my father’s family history had concerned me for most of my adult life. In 2001 this concern was validated when a genetic counsellor suggested that she thought our family probably carried a genetic mutation that predisposed us to cancer. Unfortunately, as there was no living, affected family member to test first, any hope of identifying a causative genetic mutation was so slim that genetic testing was not an option at that time. Not enough had been learned to test people unaffected by cancer. The science was too new.
For the next 12 years I followed the recommended strategies for close surveillance of my breasts, each year hoping and praying that this was not the year that cancer was identified on mammogram or ultrasound. Each year I was given a grateful reprieve, despite undergoing a number of nerve wracking biopsies.
In late 2013 I presented for another discussion with a genetic counsellor to see what their current opinions on genetic testing our family might be. I was relieved to learn that genetic testing our family was now a possibility and in mid 2014, after an initial test on my father did identify a causative genetic mutation on the BRCA1 gene, I learned that I carried a mutation that put me at a significant life time risk of developing breast and/or ovarian cancer.
For me the path forward was a straight forward one. I knew that I had to reduce my risks by undergoing prophylactic surgeries. I fronted for the first of these, removal of my uterus, fallopian tubes and ovaries – hysterectomy and bilateral salpingoopherectomy, in mid August of 2014. The surgery was straight forward with no observable issues but when the results on the pathology of the removed tissues came in, my world came crashing down. Despite being healthy and with absolutely no symptoms an early cancerous tumour had been identified. What a shock!! Everything that I had been trying to avoid had happened anyway. Along with my family I was thrown into the world of cancer, oncology, endless tests and chemotherapy.
At the beginning of February 2015, as soon as I had clearance from my doctors after completion of chemotherapy, I underwent bilateral mastectomies and breast reconstruction. Fortunately no cancer was identified at that surgery.
Further family members have since tested positive for the mutation and there is a younger generation, including my own 2 daughters, yet to be tested.
I have been given a favourable prognosis by my medical team so I am now focussing on moving forward with my life after the most tumultuous year that I could have imagined. There is little doubt that my proactive approach to learning about my family history, seeking further understanding of that history and then acting on that information has saved my life. If I had done nothing then in short order my prognosis would not have been so favourable.
I urge everybody to talk to their families about any cancer history that exists and to seek advice from a health care professional about those histories.
Throughout this last year Pink Hope has been an invaluable resource for me. From support, education and opportunities to meet other women in shoes like mine Pink Hope has helped me navigate my way through the complexities of my situation. I could not have managed without the support of this charitable organisation.