My name is Mary and this is my story.
I’ve always been an optimistic and positive person but the last five years of my life have been challenging to say the least. My breast cancer diagnosis was just the rotten cherry on top of my already disintegrating cake. Domestic violence, divorce, loss of job, becoming a single parent and trying to get through each day took its toll on my health. Support is scant in my life, having to care for my teenage daughter and my elderly father. I am currently 55 years old.
My female health has always been a priority for me: regular pap smears, checkups, breast examinations. Pregnancies (apart from an early miscarriage) were healthy and medically uneventful. I gave birth naturally and breast-fed each of my children.
At 47 my female health started to go south when I entered menopause. The hormones were going berserk. Hot flushes, inability to sleep, fatigue and worse, I haemorrhaged for three months solid after previously having no periods for three months. I had to have an endometrial ablation. I still struggled on until I turned 50 and that all stopped. To deal with the other bothersome symptoms I started on HRT and was on that for about three years – it made me feel good.
At 50 I started having regular mammograms. I had a paternal aunt who lost a breast to cancer in her 70’s and at almost 90 she is alive and doing fine. Her mother – my paternal grandmother – died at age 43 but we are not sure of what.
I received a letter from Lifepool after one of my mammograms, asking if I’d like to help with research. At first I filled out a lengthy questionnaire, and then gave a sample of my blood. Did I want to know any results? Of course, but at that stage I didn’t even dream that something would turn up that would affect my life. Other than some calcification, I did not have any symptoms of breast cancer at all.
In December 2015 I was informed that I had the mutation of the BRCA2 gene. The first time I had ever heard of this was Angelina Jolie’s story in the news. I went along to the Familial Cancer Centre at Monash where things were explained to me and what steps I could take to protect myself. Long and short of it: surgically remove your ovaries and your breasts. Surely this could not have been happening to me…..I was denial for a long time.
In February 2016 after specialist appointments, ultrasounds, mammograms, MRI and finally a biopsy, I had a confirmed diagnosis of DCIS (ducted carcinoma in situ) in my right breast. I had my ovaries and fallopian tubes removed in May 2016 and took Tamoxifen daily to buy me some time to prepare for the double mastectomy.
This Wednesday September 21 will see me in surgery to have the double mastectomy which will also involve the removal of my nipples and expanders inserted temporarily. I hope to use my own belly tissue eventually and get a new set of nipples. I hope that the biopsy to be done before the surgery does not show any of the cancer in my nodes and that I can heal promptly and get back to a normal life.
I know I have been given a gift in very early detection and that donation of my blood for research has more than likely saved my life. My daughter will be tested for the gene mutation as well.
My grandmother did not have the blessing of seeing her grandchildren, but I’m sure she would be pleased with my decision to be a Previvor. I’m going to be re-built, I will be healthy again and most of all I WILL BE ALIVE.
We owe it to all the women who have gone before,who fought and lost the battle… to soldier on and support each other in the hope and belief that a cure will be found.