Michelle’s Story

22 Nov 2018 by Krystal Barter

It was September 2014 when my older sister came home early from a family trip and told my Mum and me that she had cancer. At that stage, the doctors had found the secondary lump under her arm but didn’t know where the primary lump was.

She was due to have more tests performed that week and that’s pretty much when my boring, ordinary life went into a tail spin.

So many unanswerable questions came to mind and we wondered what caused it, where did it come from and so on. At that point, there was absolutely no knowledge of cancer anywhere in our family history. My aunt by-marriage had passed away a few years earlier from breast cancer but that was the only experience we had with it.

I was told by my doctors to go and have tests including mammogram, MRI and ultrasound, just to be sure. My sister’s doctors told her that her cancer was not the genetic type and so my Mother and I did not have to be too concerned.  Mum and I continued on with life as per normal, we watched my sister endure 6 double dose rounds of chemotherapy, surgery and 6 weeks of radiotherapy.

The tests she had done earlier showed the primary lump was in her left breast. It was small but the secondary lump, in her lymph nodes was the size of a golf ball. The surgery was to have most of her lymph nodes removed as the lump in her breast had shrunk to nothing after the chemo she had.

In December 2015 her doctors decided that her tumour was the genetic type so she was tested for the BRCA mutation. BANG – BRCA 1 Positive.

I had my test done and our Mum was tested also. My worst nightmare came true, I tested positive but thankfully mum tested negative. I was in shock and couldn’t believe this was happening. I was told by my doctors that I would require my ovaries out and a double mastectomy. My answer was a solid NO.

We then found out that my Dad tested to positive for BRCA 1. It was a bitter realisation as he had left us when we were little and had now managed to break our little (big) hearts all over again.

It was an excruciatingly tough decision but after an MRI in August 2016, where they found a stage 2 cancer, I underwent a lumpectomy and I have now had a double mastectomy. The surgeries have left me heartbroken but I knew in my heart that I could not put my Mother through losing another child (our younger brother, her son, died in 1995).

My sister’s cancer is clear now and for that I am thankful. It is strange for me to think that we were both the same age, she is older by a18 months, (48) at diagnosis and had tumours in our left breasts, hers was triple negative and mine was HR2 positive. Our lives seem to mirror each other at times. When we were younger, around 6 or 8, I ran into the house with blood dripping down my chin from a bicycle fall. It was only 5 minutes later, as my Mum was trying to contact our local doctor that my sister came in with blood dripping down her chin in an almost identical spot.  The attached photo of my sister and I was taken at around age 10 & 12 at home; we were mucking around and found some lemons, we put them down our shirts.  This photo bode ill’s our current journey.    (bode ill; to show or suggest that future developments or events will be unfavourable or unwelcome : to be a sign of trouble to come)

I am still figuring out my way through all that has happened to me. I grew up healthy and cancer had never touched my family so the realisation of carrying the BRCA1 mutation is still something I am trying to work through. I can’t give advice, I don’t believe there is a right answer to dealing with this and everyone has their own different way. All I can say is that whatever you choose, I support you.

The BRCA 1 gene mutation I carry led me to Pink Hope which has given me the privilege of being able to meet and speak to some of the strongest, bravest and most amazing ladies.

I am so grateful for the fantastic job Pink Hope and these ladies do in providing strength and support when I need and needed it most. It may be a bittersweet thing for me to belong to such an amazing group but I am thankful.

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