My name is Rachelle. This is my story.
My awareness of being at “high risk” of developing breast cancer came about after presenting to the emergency department of my local public hospital with a severe case of mastitis from struggling to breast-feed my first-born son. As I was being treated, I described the strong history of breast cancer within my extended family and it was enough for me to qualify to be part of their high-risk screening program.
A few years later, a BRCA2 mutation was confirmed by a relative in my extended family. As quickly as this was confirmed, my father – unaffected by cancer, had the courage to undergo the genetic test to determine the BRCA2 status of my immediate family. I was so grateful. I no longer had to feel like I was in limbo regarding my risk status. If his test was negative then I would have as much chance of developing breast cancer as the general public and if it turned out to be positive, then I would wholeheartedly research and consider all my options to avoid, or prevent, breast cancer.
I was not surprised when I tested positive to carrying a BRCA2 mutation and I was already comfortable with the process of having ultrasounds, mammograms and MRIs to screen for breast cancer.
This is when I discovered Pink Hope. Psychologically, I felt alone and confused – it’s hard to describe but I’m sure everyone in the Pink Hope community knows the feeling!
I found Krystal Barter’s book – The Lucky One at my local library, I joined Pink Hope’s online support community and I attended the 2016 Pink Hope conference in Melbourne.
I was starting to feel empowered about my BRCA2 status and what I could do about changing my future.
Throughout this process, I felt more prepared than my siblings in initially making the decision to have the genetic test and ultimately undergo a preventative bilateral mastectomy – it wasn’t a matter of “if” but “when”. My husband and I were discussing the option of having a third child and we were waiting for the outcome of my upcoming MRI to help us make a final decision and determine when to schedule in the preventative surgery.
Four months after finding out that I carried a BRCA2 mutation and just shy of 12 months since receiving the “all clear” from my previous MRI, I was diagnosed with breast cancer – grade 3, invasive ductal carcinoma. The cancer was hormone receptive positive – 90% to oestrogen and 5% to progesterone. Weirdly, I still felt prepared for this diagnosis. I knew that I would do everything I could to overcome cancer.
As part of my testing at diagnosis, I had a CT and bone scan. I didn’t think much of it but these tests confirmed that the breast cancer had spread beyond my breast and lymph nodes and into my bones. The breast cancer was now classified as metastatic, advanced, stage IV. There is no cure.
This is the diagnosis that I was not prepared for, I thought that I was doing all the right things to manage my risk and minimise my chances of developing breast cancer – or at least get to it early and get rid of it. Deep down, I know that I did do everything that I could in the timeframe that I had and I don’t blame myself. I blame my faulty BRCA2 gene.
One year on, I still struggle with the fact that I will have to deal with breast cancer for the rest of my life but I still have hope. I have hope for myself, as the clinical trial that I am participating in requires me to have a BRCA mutation and the treatment I am currently receiving is keeping the cancer stable.
I also have hope for the rest of my family and the Pink Hope community, if my story helps someone to make the decision to participate in screening, undergo a genetic test or seriously consider preventative measures, such as surgery or medication, then I will know that I have made an impact.
Your lips can save lives
Funds raised through the Bright Pink Lipstick Day campaign enable Pink Hope to invest in programs and support services to empower all Australians to understand and manage their risk of breast and ovarian cancer.