My name is Sarah and my story started at 11 years old when my mum was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I don’t remember understanding much about it; cancer was something that grandparents ‘had’, not my mum. I knew it was something serious when she came to pick me up from a friend’s place crying. Seeing your mum cry as a child was very confronting – they were always the strong ones and helped you when something bad had happened. I was at friends’ places a whole lot more after that; more casseroles and flowers were delivered to our home and the jobs around the house were all of a sudden a bit more of other family members’ responsibility. I remember the ‘five year all clear’ mark when I was completing grade 10; we had champagne to celebrate Mum’s big milestone! It was only a few months later that she was diagnosed for a second time with breast cancer. Another 5 years of chemotherapy, surgery, watching her hair fall out all over again, more time off work and more of a mental and emotional challenge to conquer this awful disease.
I met my wonderful fiancé in the first 3 weeks of university and we have been together now for over 8 years. When I was 23 cancer decided to ‘show up’ again in my life and he was diagnosed with bone cancer. Watching someone else I love battle this terrible disease was heartbreaking for me, especially as I knew all too well from watching mum’s fight what might be in store. He had 11 months of chemotherapy and we spent time in Melbourne for tests and medical appointments. Through the whole treatment he had an incredible outlook and mindset, never complained, and just an ‘it’s what I have to do’ attitude. He seriously is my rock. When we say our vows next year, the line ‘in sickness and in health’ will certainly have a much deeper meaning to us.
My mum told me that she carried the BRCA 2 gene mutation when I was 22. The conversation was very upsetting for her as she felt like she had possibly handed this ‘curse’ on to me. I didn’t go and get tested straight away and it took me about 12 months of talking to health care professionals in Hobart and interstate to decide what my options were. For me, I didn’t want to find out I was BRCA2 positive without first having a bit of a plan in place. I wanted to be as informed as possible in order for me to make the best individual decision. I remember not feeling all that nervous waiting to get my results as I had a suspicion deep down that the results were already positive – which turned out to be correct. At the time, all that was handed to me was a card with the Pink Hope website details. When I got home I spent an afternoon browsing the site not only getting informed, but feeling reassured that there were other people like me around Australia. I realised how many strong women I was surrounded by through reading the personal stories shared about their own cancer journey, prevention options and other loved ones’ battles.
Sometimes I felt like a mutant, like a character from X-Men who was just a little different from most other 24 year old girls. I wasn’t like most people I saw in the waiting room at the hospital having an MRI, mammogram or ultrasound on a regular basis. I bet that most other 24 year old girls weren’t checking their breasts every week because they knew they were much more likely to find something unusual there one day. Most girls weren’t thinking about the possibility that they might have to start and complete a family faster just so they could look into having a complete hysterectomy and hit early menopause mid 30’s. But they also didn’t have the knowledge that I did. I knew what the ‘faults’ were in my genes and I was gaining every piece of information I could to make informed choices about my future. In a way I was in a better spot than any of them. For example, they may have heart disease in their family and not know about it until there is a diagnosis or even when it is too late. As awful as it was knowing my odds of a high risk of cancer in the future, I also had to feel lucky that I had the information at hand and could use it to the best of my ability.
I’ve been fortunate to speak at an all girls’ high school in the last few years as part of their grade 10 science studies genetics unit. The teacher (who is a good friend) thought I would be a little more entertaining and engaging than a text book! I felt privileged to share my own story with the group, along with covering other topics such as statistics, the importance of self breast checks/reducing cancer risks and spreading the good work of Pink Hope with them. It is a very empowering experience for me to have a part in increasing awareness in the community. I’m never sure who gets more out of the presentation; the students or myself!
The last few months for me have been amazingly positive in relation to my BRCA status and I only wish I had joined the Pink Hope community sooner. I know that I am never alone through my journey and whatever emotion I am feeling or experiencing, another BRCA woman somewhere has probably felt it in the past or is currently facing it too.
The emotional support, knowledge and the experiences shared by this Pink Hope family give me so much positivity and hope for the future; for that, I can’t thank you all enough.