My name is Natasha and this is my story.
My story starts before I was born with my grandmother Marie passing away from advanced bowel cancer when my mother was eight months pregnant with me and only 22 years old. I would have been her first grandchild and therefore I was named Natasha Marie, after her. Not only did she not meet her grandchildren, but she never saw any of her four daughters get married.
When I was 17 years old and in my final year of high school, my mother Michelle, aged 39, was diagnosed with breast cancer. It had spread to her lymph nodes under her right arm. She underwent a double mastectomy, removal of the lymph nodes on that side and chemotherapy. After eight months, she was in remission and our life went back to normal. Four years later, the cancer was back in a rib bone and it was confined there for three years whilst mum made the most of her life. She was around for my engagement party, she helped with wedding planning, picked my dress with me and couldn’t wait for my big day. Most of all, she wanted grandchildren, particularly a granddaughter. Mum passed away aged 46, 10 months before my wedding, and when my husband Josh and I had a baby, a girl, we named her Aurora Michelle after my mother, and a horrible trend had started.
After mum passed away, my GP mentioned getting tested for the BRCA gene mutation but I told her to let me grieve the loss of my mum and I would deal with that later. Later came when Aurora was two months old. I discovered a lump under my right nipple and presumed it was a blocked milk duct so when it didn’t go away, that was it… I thought I had cancer. Watching your mum pass away of that terrible disease does that to you. Thankfully I had a breast specialist already due to my family history so I was seen straight away. After an ultrasound, MRI and a fine needle biopsy, my results came back all clear but I was told that before I had another child, I would have to get the lump removed so it didn’t turn cancerous. I told the specialist it was time for me to do genetic testing before I made any other decisions, deep down I knew the results would come back positive.. Which they did.
For me personally, I knew what I needed to do but I didn’t know where to turn. I found it really hard on the Gold Coast with no Family Cancer Clinic and no support. I was the first in my family, including my three aunties to undertake genetic testing and all I wanted to do was talk to someone that had gone through the diagnosis. That is when I stumbled on to Pink Hope. My life saver.
The online support groups and the website were exactly what I needed at that time. Then Krystal’s book, “The Lucky One” came out just as I was preparing for surgical consults for preventive surgeries. All those feelings that I had, that I was too scared to mention to anyone, were normal and my mind was at ease. I then decided to fly down to Sydney and attend the Pink Hope Ambassadors weekend. It was the best thing I could have done. I connected with so many wonderful women, they shared their stories and I knew I wasn’t alone. With the extra knowledge I gained that weekend, I knew that I was doing the best thing for myself and my family.
On June 11th, 2014, five months after receiving my genetic test results, I underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy with expanders. In October that same year, I had the expanders replaced with implants and was very happy with the result.
Not long after my reconstruction surgery, one of my aunt’s – mums’ sister, found a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. She tested positive for BRCA2 and underwent chemotherapy and a double mastectomy. This prompted mum’s other two sisters to get tested and thankfully they were both negative. The genetic counsellor decided to test my mums’ father, my grandfather who was still alive at the time to rule him out as the carrier of the mutation and confirm it came from my grandmother who passed away from cancer. And to everyone’s surprise, the test came back positive. It was good to 100% know where the mutation came from as this prompted extended family to get tested.
Later in 2015, my husband and I had to make the decision as to whether to conceive another baby naturally or through IVF and remove the mutation. This was such a hard decision for me, and I know it is for many people who carry the mutation. We eventually decided to conceive naturally and we welcomed our little boy Silas on November 16th, 2016. I decided to have an elective c-section and at the same time, I had my fallopian tubes removed to lower my risk of ovarian cancer. I started my BRCA journey when I was 26 years old, and today I am 32. I have excellent specialists who are very thorough in their care, and eventually when I am ready, I will look at having my ovaries removed.
My family journey has inspired me to become a Registered Nurse and I am currently in my final year at university, and have an aim to work in cancer care.
By sharing my story, I am hoping I will help empower other women to take control of their genetic cancer risk.