Our names are Julie and Michelle and we are sisters and this is our story.
In early 2015 we walked through the doors at Peter Mac side by side standing tall with heads held high not knowing what lay ahead. These same doors our Aunty walked through to battle her breast cancer which she fought with everything she had until the very end.
Our Dad in 2014 at a routine health check with is GP was diagnosed with an aggressive form of prostate cancer and fortunately is still with us to this day. Our Dad is our hero and we are so proud of how he is facing his cancer – having him with us and a part of our lives we believe life is worth fighting for.
At the ages of 26 and 29 we discovered that our two Aunties both from Dad’s side of the family carried the faulty BRCA1 gene mutation and our Grandmother Pat (Dad’s Mum) whom we never met fought hard but lost her battle with cancer. There is an enormous part of our lives missing not knowing our Grandmother. We feel so lucky that our Aunt in Sydney is here with us beating the odds with breast cancer. Who would have thought one gene fault could have such a devastating impact on our family?
Our journey started that day in 2015 when we went to the Familial Cancer Clinic at Peter Mac. We will never forget holding our breaths and with hearts pounding hearing the Genetic Counsellor say “You both have the same result … you both carry the BRCA1 gene mutation.” Our Dad had not undergone genetic testing but with us testing positive it meant that he too carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. Our younger sister is yet to undertake testing and our older brother has yet to find out whether he carries the gene. It was a shock finding out we both carried the BRCA1 gene mutation but also a relief – we were in this together.
Over our lifetime our genetic risk of developing breast cancer is between 60 and 80% which has been life changing information. Under the guidance of our Genetic Counsellor and the incredible team at Peter Mac we are doing high risk screening to manage our breast cancer risk. This involves annual MRIs and mammograms and six monthly check ups with our GP. The hardest part of high risk screening is the fear of the unknown – will something show up this time? Given we are in our 20s at this point in time we intend to continue the high risk screening and research other medical and surgical options to reduce our risk. We want to make sure we make an informed and educated decision to reduce our breast cancer risk that is right for us and our families.
The very day we received our genetic testing results we saw a flyer for the Pink Hope Conference – we had just found what we were looking for an event with expert speakers to help us with our research and an opportunity to meet other high risk women to hear their personal experiences. We gained so much information and an amazing amount of strength and comfort from other high risk women.
Knowledge really is power. We are in this together… best friends and sisters.