My name is Stacey and this is my story.
Breast cancer has been a relevant topic in my family as far back as I can remember. My mother had her first breast removed in her twenties before I was born, and her second breast removed when my little sister was a baby. She has had multiple recurrences since then, the most recent when I was 16 years old. During her struggles with breast cancer, Mum discovered that she was a carrier of the BRCA2 gene.
At 18, I made the decision to have the test to see if I had inherited the BRCA2 gene. The results confirmed that I was a carrier, meaning that I had an increased risk of developing breast cancer. For me, although not an ideal result, this news was something that I felt I could deal with. My mother is a nurse and had always been very informed about breast cancer. I felt lucky in the sense that I had been given the gift of knowledge – something my mother didn’t have when she developed breast cancer in her early twenties. This knowledge provided me with the ability to take steps to try to avoid that.
With my mother’s help, I found a good doctor and started a program of regular surveillance. I attended discussions and information sessions held by the Familial Cancer Unit in Adelaide. I learnt just how important it is to be aware of your own body and took the opportunity to initiate monthly breast self checks within my group of friends and family. By involving those around me, I developed a strong support network which has been vital in my journey so far.
By the time I had turned 19, I had made the decision to have my breasts removed. For me, I felt that it was the logical choice. I knew that my mother had been through some very tough and scary times with breast cancer – highly draining both physically and emotionally – and I had the opportunity to significantly reduce the chances of having to go through that. As I was only very young, I sat with this decision for a few years. I really took my time learning to live with the thought of having preventive surgery. I focused on finishing university and starting a career. By Christmas 2007, I felt ready and booked in my surgery for December 2008. I had a year to adjust to the fact that my operation was coming up, and I used it to really explore my decision and confirm that it was right for me. I spoke with counsellors, friends, family, doctors, workmates and my mother. Many questions were asked, many issues were raised and throughout this time I learnt to be completely comfortable with my decision – it was the right choice for me.
I decided that this was a positive step in my life and so, with the help of my support network, made my journey into a celebration. In doing so, I went into my surgery in a very good frame of mind and on December 4, 2008, at the age of 22, I had my breasts removed.
It is now nearly two months since my surgery and it has been a very positive experience. I had anticipated that I would have moments where I would grieve the loss of my breasts and be upset with my appearance, but instead I have found the surgery to be very empowering. I currently have tissue expanders in my chest in preparation for implants, and will undergo reconstructive surgery within the next few months. Looking back, I have no regrets at all. For me – in my situation with my experiences and my circumstances – this has definitely been the right decision. I have removed that constant worry of developing breast cancer and the future is bright!
September Update 2009
On my birthday this year, I underwent the final stage of my re-construction and had my implants put in. I have now had these in for nearly six months and couldn’t be happier with the results. Sure, I have scars, but I consider these to be part of my story – part of who I am and the choices I have made – and so I embrace them.
This whole experience has taught me so much. I have learnt that I am incredibly lucky to live in a time when medical science is advanced enough to provide me with knowledge of what the future may hold. This gives me options that were not available to my mother and grandmother before me – and I was able to choose to have preventative surgery. For this gift of knowledge I will be eternally grateful.
I have learnt a lot about myself and what I can achieve. Not only has this surgery been an overall positive experience, but I feel empowered. If I can make a choice like this, be completely comfortable with it and come out of it okay – more than okay in fact – who knows what else I can achieve! I have certainly been questioned along the way, especially about my age and ability to make this decision at only 22. And those questions are okay – I am very young to have made this choice. But those questions only reinforced that I was making the right choice for me.
I have learnt the importance of good support networks. The people around me who have supported me on this journey have been invaluable. They have shown me that with them standing behind me, I am capable of anything. They will be there for me no matter what happens – they will love me just the same with or without my breasts. Never once did I feel alone or like I had no one to turn to. My beautiful friends and family have been with me every step of the way and I feel like the luckiest girl alive to have them in my life.
So here I am – nine months since I had my breasts removed. I have lost my breasts, but have gained so much more than that. The threat of breast cancer has essentially been taken away and I can face the future without that fear in my mind. I have been able to take away so many positives from this journey and it truly has reinforced just how fortunate I am.
I am very grateful for everything this experience has taught me.
From here, my focus will be on my little sister Laura, also a BRCA2 gene carrier. The next few years will call for some big decisions from her and whatever her choices may be, she will have my love and support to help her through.