My name is Corinne. This is my story.
It is an honour to be part of the #BPLD campaign and promoting the importance of understanding and knowing your risk has become part of my daily life and conversations.
I never met my paternal grandmother, but I knew she died of Breast Cancer at 40 years old. Even with this knowledge, up until 12 months ago, I thought my risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer was low as the advice I was given was “don’t worry about it, it’s on your dads side and it doesn’t get passed down via males”. At the time, I thought I just thought mammograms and breast cancer is something I can worry about when I am 60
Following a family discussion at Christmas 2016 about the BRCA gene and prevalent cancers in the family, I decided, with the support of my parents, brother and sisters, to commence attendance at the familiar cancer centre to understand my risks, conduct gene testing and find out more information.
The decision to complete gene testing was difficult. I felt unsure, scared and overwhelmed with information. I was at a cross roads whether to find out more and take on the burden that comes with it or to just live my life carefree, without knowing my risks and seeing what happened. Being a single woman, I felt alone and sad that I didn’t have a person to share this life changing decision with.
I tested positive for the BRCA 2 gene in April 2016. I felt numb and unemotive. I remember receiving the information as a fact, like someone had just told me I had brown hair and accepting it. I also recall wanting to get out of the room with my genetic counsellor- asap. I practically ran out. Afterwards, I was a little confused and many questions came. Would I have to stop eating particular foods and drinking alcohol and staying out of the sun? Was I going to get cancer? Why had I not known earlier? Why didn’t we talk about this in our family? Who will want to be with a “defective” person?!
One week later, I attended the Pink Hope Conference with my sister Rachelle, who had also tested positive. We were on this journey together and I had someone to lean on.
The information presented at the conference was valuable. I met many supportive and lovely ladies who provided me the love and confidence I needed. However, when the options of reducing my risks were presented, I became emotional. The thought of removing my perfectly healthy (at the moment) breasts! How can this be the best option? Why me? I wanted to breastfeed. I enjoy the sensation of my breasts. Who would want to touch my faux boobs?!?!
I came out of the conference with a plan. I would follow the advice of screening and perhaps consider a preventative double mastectomy in a few years, maybe after I possibly had some children.
I started to tell my closest friends about my situation. This was also difficult as many didn’t know what to say or acted like I was getting a breast augmentation. I felt like a few people turned away from me or don’t really talk about it because it was “too much drama”. However, I now have a clearer picture of who are the people I want to keep close and will help me. This includes many of the Pink Hope ladies.
A few months after finding out about my BRAC2 status, my beautiful sister Rachelle’s screening showed that she had Breast Cancer. A week later, after a CT scan, we found out it was metastatic, advanced, stage IV with no cure. Our journeys were now very different.
Many people talk about when faced with a difficult decision, there is sometimes a pivotal moment, a moment of clarity, that is so strong that any doubts fall to the wayside and your know what you need to do. This was mine. I had to do something about my health. I feel terrible and helpless about my sister, I feel guilty that I have an opportunity to do something about reducing my risk of breast cancer and she doesn’t. But it has also allowed me to focus on the things that matter, helping others and sharing the information, tools and resources so other families and my future family can do something about reducing their cancer risks.
Following initial MRI and mammogram screenings which were clear, I have booked a risk reducing double mastectomy for the end of 2017.
Knowing my risks has allowed me to make significant life choices and take action related to my physical and mental health, including those related to fertility preservation. I am writing this story part way through a round the world trip I booked for myself, a little treat before surgery and one last bikini holiday with my real breasts!
I now feel confident, clarity and a sense of calm. I know I can control parts of my life in an area that can often feel out of control or unfair.
I thank Pink Hope and the ‘ladies’, who from day one, have provided me with the love, support, resources and answers. The Pink Hope community ‘just get it’ and I can turn to them at any time when sad or happy or confused. This outlet allows me to return to the normal world more confident and strong.
Love and forever hopeful for a cure x Corinne