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Rowena’s Story

19 Aug 2015 by Krystal Barter
Rowena’s Story

My name is Rowena. This is my story.

I am 35yrs old and a mother of three gorgeous children. My story only started recently, because unlike many BRCA carriers there was no history of breast or ovarian cancer in my family, or so we thought…

In 2011 my cousin found a lump in her breast, the doctor tried to dismiss it at first given she was only 41 at the time with no family history, however it was indeed breast cancer, triple-negative that had spread to her lymph nodes. The oncologist said that because of her age and type of cancer she would refer her to genetic counselling.

This is where our true family history was revealed…

Our grandfather (my mother’s father) was married twice, our grandmother was his second wife. His first wife and family with whom we did not have much association with, had a very strong history of cancer on that side – brain tumors, skin cancer and breast cancer.

Although only half-blood relations, the genetic counsellor decided to explore this side of our family and once in contact with a half-blood cousin, who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her early thirties, we learned there had been four diagnosed breast cancers and they had already undergone genetic testing and had been identified as having the BRCA1 gene fault, unfortunately they didn’t feel the need to tell any of us due to the very small connection of our grandfather.

My cousin then underwent genetic testing and was diagnosed BRCA1 as well. The link was formed, our maternal grandfather had passed the gene down to both of his families.

It turned out that every single adult woman and a few men in our family have the BRCA1 gene fault, one of my aunts was very fortunate that she had her preventative surgery to remove her ovaries, because upon removal she was found to have stage 1 ovarian cancer, with no symptoms.

Knowing your family history can potentially save your life and this was definitely the case for my aunt, we were very fortunate that all our family history was exposed when it was, we were made aware of the impacts of being a BRCA1 carrier and my aunt was able to act on it, otherwise she would never have known until it was too late.

I was diagnosed BRCA1 in 2013, I had a hard time coming to terms with what it all meant, I felt so alone, I had never heard of the gene fault and I had never heard of anyone else having it, I thought being diagnosed BRCA1 positive was a horrible curse, the implications of the diagnosis were terrifying and for the most part it felt like I had already been diagnosed with cancer, which weighed heavily on me every day. I had already decided to go down the preventative path beforehand, and the worry and stress of the diagnosis just confirmed that was the right choice for me. But what I struggled with most was the thought that I had possibly passed this gene fault down to my beautiful children.

I was so lucky to then find Pink Hope, all the information was there waiting for me, and talking things through with women, and especially other mothers who were going through exactly the same experience and emotions as me, not only brought comfort that I wasn’t alone but it also brought opinions and new perspectives.

Rowena

It was through meeting some beautiful friends via Pink Hope the reality of the diagnosis changed for me. I realised that with the diagnosis came power, the power to be proactive and take control of my life, the power to beat a dreaded disease before it had the chance to beat me, and the power to spread awareness not only to my children but to others, and especially to people like me who might have a very small family history link and think it irrelevant.

Although nothing can change the fact that I may have potentially passed this dreaded gene fault onto my children, I do have the ability to provide them with all the knowledge they need so that if and when the time comes they too can be proactive and take control of their lives.

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