My name is Sarah and this is my story.
I am 30 years old, I live in Hobart with my lovely husband and work as a Paramedic.
In May 2016, just after my 30th birthday, I underwent a prophylactic breast mastectomy to remove my healthy breasts and reduce my risk of developing breast cancer. My mother was my age when she was diagnosed with stage-three breast cancer those many years ago, when I witnessed her illness through the eyes of a five-year-old. After my mum’s sister was also diagnosed in her late 30’s, geneticists became interested in our family history and the genetic link was found; BRCA2. It turns out that my great grandmother had died of ovarian cancer, which was simply referred to as ‘tummy cancer’ back then when women’s reproductive organs were a taboo topic of conversation. It’s been 10 years since I learnt that I too carry the faulty BRCA2 gene that runs in our family, and although I didn’t let it worry me too much when I was in my early 20’s, as I grew closer to the age my mum was when she was diagnosed, it certainly began playing on my mind.
Whist I was blissfully self-absorbed in my 20-something and single life, I was prepared to take the risk of cancer, and keep my own breasts. I was resigned to the thought that one day I too would battle breast cancer and like my mother and aunty before me, I too would make a full recovery. Up until around two years ago this all changed. I found myself engaged to a beautiful man I loved, planning a wedding and discussing plans to start a family! I suddenly felt an overwhelming sense of responsibility to protect my husband and future children from such a terrifying disease. I began to feel less and less comfortable with the thought that someday soon I might develop breast cancer. My husband and future babies will be impacted greatly by my health. This was the basis of my ultimate decision to cease annual screening and remove my breasts.
It was around this time of big decision making that I found Pink Hope. I don’t know what I would have done without the support, knowledge, empowerment and friendships gained through Pink Hope during such a difficult time in my life. Finding Pink Hope was key in unlocking my inner courage and power needed to make and succeed through such a difficult process. I honestly couldn’t have done it without the support of all those brave ladies who went before me and showed me the way.
My surgery was booked in five months in advance to give me and my family time to mentally and physically prepare. I chose a breast surgeon and plastic surgeon team in Melbourne that were personally recommended to me, and I felt confident and relieved that I would be in good hands. I travelled to Melbourne for the surgery and underwent a ‘nipple delay’ nine days prior to a ‘nipple sparing prophylactic breast mastectomy direct to implants’. I made it something to look forward to (as crazy as that sounds!) by having a Bye-Bye-Boobies party before-hand and booking lovely accommodation for ten days post-surgery in Melbourne and had an array of family and friends coming and going during my recovery. I took six weeks of sick leave from work and went back on ‘light-duties’ for a couple of weeks until I felt strong and comfortable enough to lift patients again and do all the manual handling my job entails. Although it was a difficult surgery to go through, with many ups and downs, I was fortunate enough to recover extremely well. For me, making the decision was the hardest part: much harder than the actual surgery and recovery itself. Six months down the track I decided to have revision surgery including implant exchange to a size and shape that suited me better, as well as a few nip-tucks here and there to improve the overall aesthetics. I am so pleased I did and have now gone from ‘coping’ with how they look to liking the way they look!
I feel I am in a really good place right now. After a year of big decisions, big surgeries and a lots of recovery, I have now closed the door on 2016 feeling confident and satisfied with my results. 2016 was a year about my breasts; the topic consumed my thoughts, conversations and activities! In 2017 I start a new chapter: a new leaf. I realize my BRCA story isn’t over yet; I plan to have prophylactic salpingo-oophorectomies and hysterectomy in another decade’s time, once I have finished having a family and approach my 40’s. However I will not give this too much thought or attention for a few years yet.
As I reflect on my story so far, I realize how lucky I am to have known my genetic risk and to have the opportunity to write my own future. How lucky I am to have such an amazing supportive husband, friends, family and colleagues and to have a forum such as Pink Hope.