health

She has an 80 per cent chance of getting breast cancer. This is how she's dealing with it.

Hannah and her daughter

by HANNAH DOWNEY

Hearing the news about Angelina Jolie’s double mastectomy has inspired me to share something close to my heart, that until now has been a struggle to share.

A family tree shows that almost every woman in my mothers line has fought breast cancer at some stage.

As a result, I too, recently made the decision to undergo genetic testing to find out whether I carried one of the two breast cancer gene mutations common within the specific Jewish tribe my family stems from.

After six weeks of waiting, I was sat down within a grey room and told the grey news.

My risk of breast cancer had suddenly increased from the average Australian of a one in 10 chance and jumped to an 80% risk.

The stale room, the seriousness of the news, and I literally felt hollow, because not only was I at risk of breast cancer I was also at an increased risk of ovarian cancer. Worse than all of this – Bonnie, my young, innocent daughter, had a 50% chance of carrying the mutation too.

“My chance of breast cancer is 80%. My daughter’s chance is 50%.”

While we sat with the doctors to discuss the results, Bonnie frantically tried to eat the paper which contained the bad news.

Her obliviousness and innocence amongst this grey was warming and reassuring like somehow, she knew that this paper was a weight upon me and she was trying desperately to destroy it.

The doctors explained that there are several options available (along with regular screening) to ensure that I manage my risk.

Like Angelina, a double mastectomy will be required by age 30, as well as a variation of a vasectomy, whereby instead of having the tubes tied, I had them and my ovaries completely removed no later than 45. This procedures could reduce my risk by half.

A no brainer, right?

The thought of having both, or even one of those procedures is frightening. While neither would occur until I have finished having children, the thought of having my choice to have children removed frightens me. Your breasts, your female organs, are in a primitive (and to me, important) sense of what defines me as a woman.

Through all this, I feel blessed that I met my soul mate so young, and was given the opportunity to have children before it could have been too late. While I may still, never actually have breast cancer, the statistics are against me. And, while all these are decisions need not be made right now, it remains a Pandora’s box in the back of my mind waiting to be opened someday.

Worst of all, as a mother you want to protect your child from these sorts of things, but two bullets have been fired, and I’ve already caught one. In some twisted way, if Bonnie gets hit, I will forever carry the guilt.

Hannah is a part time publicist and full time mother. Growing up in Sydney, she now resides on Northern Beaches with her husband Simon and 21 month old daughter, Bonnie. A love of the outdoors and of family, Hannah feels blessed everyday to have met her partner so young, and is putting the big decisions in a box for the time being and spending her days enjoying watching her young daughter grow.

If you’re worried about breast cancer and would like to get tested – click here for more information and see this list of family cancer clinics in Australia.

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