Let’s face it- cancer is scary. Being told that you have cancer, or even a high risk of developing cancer, is overwhelming. It makes you feel like the world is ending and amidst the extreme numbness you feel, there is an urge to run or to hide. However, you can’t run or hide because wherever you go, the cancer diagnosis follows. In reality, if you run and hide, the disease will ultimately win. Only by confronting it can you have a chance of denying it victory.
I was a happy healthy 43-year-old when I found a lump in my left breast back in 2015. I had lost my mother to cancer in 2001. As the first Australian born member of my family, most of my relatives and any knowledge of our history were distant and overseas. When my surgeon insisted that my cancer likely had a genetic basis, I had no knowledge of cancer running in the family or if Mum had just been an isolated case.
After surgery, radiotherapy and oophorectomy, I am cancer free, although I will remain on hormone blocking medication for another 7 years. I have tested negative for either BRCA gene but there is a high probability that I have one of the lesser known gene abnormalities. My world didn’t end, but the one I live in now is very different to the one I knew prior to diagnosis.
I tire much quicker than I did before and I have side effects from treatment, such as sore joints and muscles. On the positive side, I am mentally stronger now. Minor things that used to worry me are now unimportant to me and I truly appreciate each day. Overall life is pretty good again.
The biggest change I have made is using modern technology, combined with my research skills, to get in contact with relatives overseas in places like England, Wales and the United States. I’ve strived to learn as much about my family history as I can. In many ways, it is proving to be a complicated history but that is a story for another place and time! Although interesting, this newfound knowledge is beneficial and something I’d advise others to do in order to best understand their risk! Knowledge is power.