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Elisha's sisters had their breasts removed to avoid cancer. Elisha chose to wait.

The Neave sisters
The Neave sisters

Meet the Neave sisters.

On the left is Veronica. In the middle is Chrissy. And on the right is Elisha.

These Queensland women come from a family with a long history of cancer.

Their mother has survived two bouts of breast cancer and is currently living with terminal bone cancer. One week ago, their father died of liver cancer. The sister’s grandmother, great grandmother and aunt have all died from breast cancer.

In 2007, Chrissy, Veronica and Elisha were all tested for a gene called BRCA2. Having the gene indicates a high probability of being diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer in the future.

All three sisters tested positive.

Elisha Neave
Elisha Neave
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Shortly after they received this news, Veronica and Chrissy made the heartbreaking and difficult decision to have double mastectomies and a hysterectomies, as preventative measures to reduce their chances of getting cancer.

Elisha decided to wait.

Elisha wanted more children and as the youngest of the Neave family, she though time was on her side. Sadly, it wasn’t.

Last night, the Neave family appeared on Channel 9’s 60 Minutes.

In a heartbreaking segment, Veronica, Chrissy and Elisha told reporter Tara Brown that Elisha’s decision to wait for a few years may have cost her her life.

Thirty-four-year-old Elisha – who has a 10-year-old son – has recently been diagnosed with an aggressive and rare form of ovarian cancer.

This from Channel 9:

Tara Brown
Tara Brown

TARA BROWN: Elisha thought the odds were in her favour. She was 31 – nearly 10 years younger than her closest sister and the track record of cancer in the family was that it struck around age 50.

TARA BROWN: Elisha did plan to have preventative surgery, both a mastectomy and hysterectomy but just not yet.

TARA BROWN: Why did you wait?

ELISHA: So I – I had the dream of having more children, so I wanted my ovaries. So I thought I’d just wait a couple of years.

TARA BROWN: Elisha didn’t have a couple of years and she’ll never have another baby.  Just over a year ago, age 33, she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

TARA BROWN: So, in your heart, can you survive this?

ELISHA: Absolutely, absolutely. I have no other option. I’ve got a 10-year-old son so the – I’ve only got one option and that’s to survive.

Angelina Jolie with her mother.
Angelina Jolie with her mother.
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The sisters have come forward with their story in the wake of 37-year-old actress Angelina Jolie’s revelation earlier this month that she’d had both of her breasts removed after her learned that she had a gene called BRCA1, that gives her an “87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer”.

According to Pink Hope, women who carry a fault in BRCA1 or BRCA2 have a high lifetime risk of breast cancer, estimated to be in the range of 30-60% and a lifetime ovarian cancer risk of about 20%.

Like the Neave sisters, Jolie comes from a family with a long history of cancer. Jolie’s mother Marcheline – a woman she descries as “just grace incarnate” – died of ovarian cancer at the age of 65. Today the news broke that Jolie’s aunt Debbie – who was Marcheline’s sister – died of breast cancer at the age of 61.

And like Jolie, the Neave sisters are telling their story in the hope that it will raise awareness of these genes.

More from Channel 9:

The Neave sisters with their mother, Claudette.
The Neave sisters with their mother, Claudette.

TARA BROWN: Of course, having a mastectomy or hysterectomy must be one of the most difficult and emotional decisions a woman can make. But because it’s considered elective surgery, it can also be an incredibly expensive one.

CHRISSY: There needs to be some kind of assistance for people that are making that elective surgery decision.  I mean I, gosh, this is not a boob job. This is, they are not bouncy, nice and fresh and juicy like a – a beautiful, you know, breast enhancement.  They’re numb and hard and cold and yuck.  Why would I want to elect to do that?  Um – as a bonus?  I – I wouldn’t.  I’ve done it to save my life down the track.

TARA BROWN: Unbelievably, the ignorance about how risky this gene is extends to some in the medical profession.  One of Elisha’s earlier doctors, not seen in this story, missed the symptoms of ovarian cancer – her severe bloating, constipation, bowel problems and haemorrhoids despite knowing she carried a genetic time bomb.

ELISHA: I found out the five symptoms on the way to hospital to get my first surgery done. There was a poster on the elevator saying, “Ovarian cancer – if you’re experiencing this, this, this, this, and this, please see your GP about getting tested.” They were the five things I was complaining to my GP about for six weeks and he didn’t pick up on it.

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On the program last night, the woman described the moment they found out about their sister’s diagnosis.

Elisha before she was diagnosed.
Elisha before she was diagnosed.

Chrissy said: “It was the worst – now that that’s the time I can’t talk about it.  It was probably the single worst day of my whole life. I was in Melbourne.”

Their brother Denny who has luckily escaped the gene (men can be born with it too and it can cause breast, testicular or prostate cancer) said: “She is the baby sister and we will wrap our arms around her and we will carry her through this.”

Elisha has now been through radical chemotherapy, a drastic hysterectomy and major surgery. But the cancer is still there.

And yet, Elisha says she’s not giving up hope.

“My cancer is a very rare, aggressive, smart cancer. Well, I could say that I’m the same.  I’m very rare, aggressive, and smart too,” Elisha says.

“There’s some days when you’re just beaten down so much that -that it seems like a monster standing over you.  Those are the days where you really have to grab yourself and just go, “No, I’m – I’m going to – I’m going to beat this monster today.”

You can see the full 60 Minutes segment here.

There is hope that a specialised treatment in Germany could be the key to Elisha’s survival. To donate to the Elisha Neave fund, you can visit her website: helpelisha.com.au.

For more information about the BRCA1 and BRCA2, you can read the Mamamia cheat sheet here.

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