My name is Kristie and this is my story.
I believe we all have moments that define and change our lives. I remember my first life changing moment on what should have been a night of celebration for my family and I. It was the 25th August 1995 the night of my engagement party and I along with everyone was having a great time, my dad was really quiet and my mother very teary. I didn’t know it then, but my Dad had been diagnosed with terminal prostate cancer that day!!! He was 50yrs old. After a short battle he died aged 52 years I was 22. At the time his sister my Aunty was also battling bowel cancer in her early 50’s and she too died way to soon age 53. My Grandmother (their mother) had breast cancer in her 50’s and had a mastectomy but lived to the ripe age of 91. Her two brothers also had died early of what was thought to be cancer. My only sister and I knew we needed to have regular checks as cancer seemed to run in the family but had no idea of the BRCA gene and how it would play a major part in our lives.
I married and went on to have three beautiful children and was pregnant with my fourth baby when my next life changing moment turned my world on its head. In July 2010 my sister, Kim aged 34 years was diagnosed with breast cancer…… I was numb. She was younger than me and so healthy it was not fair. Within days of being diagnosed I went with her for doctor’s appointments and we were referred to the Genetic Clinic where she was tested for the BRCA gene fault. She came back positive for BRCA2. I was with her when she got the results and I was told of my 50/50 chance of carrying the gene fault as well as passing it onto my children. We have two cousins that were also tested one was positive one was not. I instantly and instinctively knew I had the gene fault too but I was six months pregnant at the time. I was with Kim as much as I could be while she was getting treatment which included a double mastectomy, infections, numerous hospital stays and six rounds of chemo.
I was determined to be tested for the BRCA gene fault before the birth of my baby as I needed a plan of action! So at eight months pregnant and after much counselling I was tested and told I too was carrying the gene fault. Then and there I decided that my boobs were a liability I didn’t need. Being only 37 myself, I had never had a mammogram and I was so scared that I too may have early breast cancer. I was told that I could have MRI eight weeks after the babies’ birth if I wasn’t breastfeeding as my breasts would be back to “normal”.
On November 28th I gave birth to my healthy son Ted and I breastfed him for the first and last time the day he was born. I knew he needed me as a Mum more than my breast milk. It was a really hard decision after breastfeeding my other kids but I knew I was doing the right thing. After eight weeks I had my long awaited MRI which came back clear but regardless I was already booked in for my preventative surgery removing both my breasts and ovaries.
I had the surgery when Ted was 11 weeks old. The operation went as well as it does, I spent 13 days in hospital with drains and felt very comfortable with my decision. It was very difficult not being able to pick up my baby or cuddle my kids but we got through it. The months that followed seem like a blur but each week I regained my strength and zest for life. I had my expanders filled regularly and was looking forward to my new boobs.
Around this time Kim was finishing her chemo and we both decided to have our changeover surgery for implants in the same hospital, on the same day, with the same surgeon. We recovered together often sharing one hospital bed watching movies. We were known on the ward as double trouble!!! Six months on Kim is doing great back at work and engaged and I have my husband and four kids to keep me busy.
Looking back it has been a huge year and I can’t believe what we went through but I feel so empowered that I had the knowledge that could alter my life’s path and the strength and support to change my destiny.
Update April 03, 2013
It has been two years since my surgery and I’m feeling so free! Free of the cancer fear that has plagued my family. I have a better set of boobs than I could have ever imagined and I’m now investigating 3D nipple tattoos. I wear a patch for estrogen and if I’m a grumpy Mum my daughter asks me to put a new happy patch on! So life is as good as ever. My four gorgeous children are growing so fast and I’m constantly fearful that I have passed on this gene fault to them, but I’m confident that they are in the best position to tackle it head on.
I must say a huge thank you to my Mum whom I owe so much gratitude to! She has been there every step of the way through my surgeries for me and my family as well as looking after Kim during chemo sessions at the same time. As a Mother I can’t imagine the despair she must have felt during this time with both her girls needing her, but her strength and love got us both through. Thanks Mummy I love you. Also to my ever loyal and loving husband who has been my rock and my best friend for 18 years I’m so lucky to have you next to me always. Finally to my sister Kim who has faced cancer, chemo, infections, boobs in and out and in again, nipples on and off, fertility issues and so much more but not once has she asked “why me?” She is the one person anyone who is having problems should look to for inspiration. Kim has been the best support for me and the most courageous little sister, I’m so proud of her and can’t wait to see her start a family of her own! Love you Kimmy.
There is not a day that goes by without a thought of the BRCA gene or the journey so far but I’m looking forward to a long full life surrounded by my beautiful family.