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Up Close & Personal with Dr Jodie Fleming

18 Sep 2019 by Krystal Barter
Up Close & Personal with Dr Jodie Fleming

I had always wanted to be a psycho-oncologist, I mean how much more rewarding could a career in health be than helping someone through the toughest time of their life – facing cancer? When I met my husband at the beginning of his treatment for testicular cancer, I felt like it was a sign from that universe that I’d definitely chosen the perfect career path.

In 2010, at the age of thirty-seven, I received my own cancer diagnoses – two primary breast cancers, one in each breast, two months apart. At that point, I realised that my cancer education was just beginning.

Throughout my year of treatment, multiple surgeries, genetic testing, chemotherapy, I wrote letters to my beautiful Nan. Those letters became a book. A Hole in My Genes.

Friday the 20 September is Pink Hope’s Bright Pink Lipstick Day, a day dedicated to encouraging us all to have life-saving conversations with our families about high-risk cancers.

I’d like to invite you to join me on Thursday the 19th at 7.30pm for a live webinar on that very topic.

Here is an excerpt from my book about the journey I took with my sister to find out I am BRCA1 positive.

TORN GENES

When Mum told my sister Kim I had breast cancer, she asked if I would die.

And then she cried.  

Even though we look different, our identical laugh gives us away. And there is nothing better in this world than laughing with my sister.

Kim was thirty-four at the time of my diagnosis and already had my two nephews, Will and Tommy. Like me, she has always taken a proactive approach to healthcare and when the possibility of a genetic link was raised, she knew instantly she wanted to be tested.

Not long after my second cycle of chemotherapy, the two of us drove a couple of hours to Geelong, a larger regional city, for genetic counselling. Many people find living in country areas disadvantageous due to the lengthy travel required to see specialists. Fortunately, the majority of my treatment could happen at home.

‘So, what is genetic counselling?’ Kim asked in the car, ‘I mean, it’s not like they can actually counsel your genes.’ She liked to state the obvious. As a psychologist, even I found the term puzzling.

‘Well I guess you could look at it as the human side of genetics, especially when there’s a problem with a family’s genes. From what I can gather, the genetic counsellors help us understand what all the medical stuff means, like the levels of risk we’re facing, as well as helping us make informed decisions about prevention and minimisation of risk of getting cancer, for example if we end up carrying one of the mutations.’ 

Once in the consultation room, our counsellor drew our family tree to illustrate the way our genes are passed down to us.

I took a deep breath. ‘Is Kim able to be tested as well? She’d like to know whether or not she carries the mutation too.’

‘We don’t automatically test all family members because reading someone’s DNA is like reading an encyclopaedia from cover to cover and it takes several weeks for results to come in. It’s also an expensive task, although you qualify for your test to be completely funded due to your diagnoses. Once your results are back, if they are positive, we’ll happily test all other immediate family members who elect to be tested.’

Kim and I crossed the road in silence only to discover they couldn’t take my blood test that day as we’d already missed the courier. I’d be able to have the blood test tomorrow at my own workplace and the courier would pick it up from there.

Another waiting game began. I returned to work, and my fight with cancer.

A Hole in My Genes is a breast cancer memoir about Jodie’s professional and later personal candid, raw experiences of being diagnosed with two primary breast cancers at the age of 37 and later discovering she is BRCA1 positive. A Hole in My Genes is available online and in hardcopy via Amazon, Booktopia or direct through Jodie’s website drjodifleming.com.au

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