My name is Wendy and this is my story.
My name is Wendy and I am a 45 year old mother of two. I have a beautiful 13 year old daughter, Madison and a cheeky 8 year old son called Bryce. They and my husband Stuart are the lights of my life.
In 2011, at the age of 40 I found out that I carried the BRCA2 mutation that made be highly susceptible to developing Breast Cancer as well as Ovarian Cancer. My father’s family has a large history of breast cancer, and as a result he tested for the gene. Once he found he was positive, both my sister and I tested. Thankfully she does not carry it.
My paternal Grandmother, Ivy, was one of 7 sisters. Of the seven, five developed breast cancer and died from the disease early in life. My Grandmother died when my father was only 2 years old. She was just 33 years old. Over the years, many of the descendants of the sisters have developed cancer, mainly breast, but ovarian and prostate also. Thanks to one of my father’s cousins, who went to the Familial Cancer Clinic at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, we found out about the presence of the gene in our family. Thankfully, my dad had the foresight to be tested.
This saved my life.
Prior to receiving the results of my blood test for BRCA2, my husband and I decided that we would go down the path of a preventative mastectomy if I tested positive. I didn’t want to leave anything to chance, and considering we had finished having our family, the timing was suitable for us. We were given many options for dealing with the risk, but at the end of the day I didn’t want to live with it.
The day I found out I had the gene was a hard one, but also quite empowering. I now had the choice to take control of my health and make informed decisions about my breast cancer risk. As Angelina Jolie said after her oophorectomy –
It is not easy to make these decisions. But it is possible to take control and tackle head-on any health issue. You can seek advice, learn about the options and make choices that are right for you. Knowledge is power.
As the Familial Cancer Clinic at the Royal Melbourne looked after me so well, I decided to remain there for my care and went on to the waitlist for a double mastectomy and immediate reconstruction, following detailed visits with the Surgeons, Nurses and Psychologists.
As part of the screening process once I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene, I underwent annual MRI’s and Mammograms to monitor any changes in my breasts. As the result of a screening MRI in March 2013, I found out that I had early stage breast cancer. A 9mm tumour was detected in my right breast. If I hadn’t had that MRI, I would not have found my cancer at that early stage. It did not show up on my Mammogram.
My double mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction was scheduled a month after my diagnosis for May that year. It was right after the time that Angelina Jolie had gone public about hers. Her going public helped me enormously. I was able to tell people that I was having the same surgery as Angelina Jolie, and thanks to the news coverage it was a great way to explain things to my children.
We had planned a family holiday to Disneyland at the start of that May and I was still able to take that. It was amazing and the best thing I ever did. We made a pact that we wouldn’t discuss anything about the cancer from the moment we stepped on to the plane until we arrived home and I am proud to say that we didn’t. We made great memories and it kept my mind off the impending surgery.
I underwent a double mastectomy and DIEP flap reconstruction on Monday 27th May 2013. A DIEP flap reconstruction is where they use the flesh from your tummy and bring it up to your chest to reconstruct your breasts. You are left with a long scar from hip to hip on the stomach and obviously some scars around the breasts too. I also lost my nipples as part of this surgery. In saying that, I am so happy with the results of the surgery and now that I have undergone nipple reconstruction and tattooing, I can’t believe how realistic my breasts look. I owe all that to the amazing surgeons and nurses who looked after me and continue to look after me to this day.
The Oncologists were undecided about whether I needed to have some chemotherapy after the surgery as the breast tissue they removed showed not only the 9mm tumour but a number of smaller ones developing. One Oncologist was adamant that I needed it and another was not. My husband and I researched chemo and the side-effects and were not sure we wanted to travel that path. Following another opinion, another Oncologist suggested that I have my ovaries removed ASAP and continue on Tamoxifen. He felt that would be the best way forward. We decided to take that path and I had an oophorectomy to remove both ovaries and my fallopian tubes in August 2013.
I now take Tamoxifen and have been plunged into immediate surgical menopause. The hot flushes are hard to take, but aside from that I am coping OK with it. No other signs of menopause have hit me as yet, and now that I have been in menopause for almost 3 years, I am hoping that no other effects will start now.
I have undergone 5 surgeries in 3 years, with the mastectomy, oophorectomy, nipple reconstruction and two scar revision surgeries. Now that I am three years down the track I am so happy with the results of my surgery. My breasts look incredible, and my stomach looks amazing now that we have completed all the plastic surgery.
My hope for the future is that research into gene mutations continues so that neither of my children has to go through the same journey as I have. I will leave it up to them as to whether or not they want to be tested for the gene, and I will support their decision either way. For me however, the knowledge was power.
Going through Breast Cancer taught me that life is short so you need to grab it with both hands and live it – every day! Family and friends are what make life special, so spend your time with them, make memories, and live in the moment. Do what makes you happy! I finally realised a dream I had of writing novels, and I have just published my fourth contemporary romance in two years! Anything in life is possible if you believe you can do it.
I am grateful to have been able to share my story with you all.
By knowing my risk I have definitely have been able to change my future.
It has been a busy time for my family. I approach every day one at a time. I will always be screened for cancer, and doctor visits are now a permanent part of my life. I do have the occasional meltdown where I decide that I don’t want to go to another appointment or have another needle stuck into me, but truthfully I would never once complain about going through this, because thanks to my dad, and that MRI, I am still here able to share my story, and that is to be celebrated.