health

"It was my eldest sister who hugged me and said the three words 'you have cancer'."

It was a hot October’s day in Sydney. I was at home getting ready for an event and, as usual, I was running late.

It was on this day that I found myself in the bathroom, fumbling away at some Hollywood tape, trying to hold my boobs in place that I felt a lump.

Who knew that my fate was in the hands of one slightly revealing dress?

I’ve been known to be quite the hypochondriac at times, so instinctively I spoke about the lump a lot. Turns out, having a lump is quite common, even in my age group. It seemed everyone I had spoken to had something similar and theirs all turned out to be normal. I was getting the reassurance I needed, especially given I was about to start a new job.

Things in my life were busy. I didn’t have time for this.

Mamamia spoke to two young Aussie sisters about finding out they had the BRCA gene mutation, and how it affected their lives. Post continues after video.

Video by MMC

A few weeks passed and in that time, one of my manager’s friends had sadly passed away from breast cancer. I took this as a sign and decided to make a call and book myself in for a mammogram. The sign was short lived as the lady on the phone told me I needed to be over 40 to go there. I felt like I was in Mean Girls and she told me “I couldn’t sit with her”. This only put it off a little longer.

Finally, one Tuesday, two weeks into my new job and over a month after I first felt the lump, I went to see a doctor.

I hadn’t been to this doctor before but she felt the lump, insisted I get it looked at straight away and booked me in for an ultrasound the next day. I remember lying on the ultrasound bed and the guy asking me which breast the lump was in and if I could point out the area.

I looked down at my chest, and at this point, you could clearly see the lump popping up under my skin. I think he was surprised how obvious it stood out too. I remember looking at his screen and seeing the large dark mass, it was so ugly. Even with my non-medical eyes, I could tell it didn’t look right.

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I kind of noticed a shift in the way they acted towards me when he went out and got a doctor who suggested we get the lump biopsied because it needed further investigating.

Next minute and what felt like three-gun shots to my boob later, I’m back at work with an ice pack in my bra and feeling a bit worried.

This all happened on a Thursday afternoon and they told me I’d get the results back on Monday. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but Mum suggested as she always does, to put Dad’s details (he’s a GP) on the referral form so he’d get the results too.

Sunday morning came and Dad casually logged into his computer as he does at 7am every other day, but this time, he saw a report that he wasn’t expecting. His daughter’s name, and the words ‘Grade 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer’.

Lucky for me, my mum and three sisters were all in Sydney that Sunday, November 4, 2018. I woke up at my partner’s house to a missed call from my mum and a message to meet at my place for coffee. It was Sunday and I love coffee, I wasn’t suspicious in the slightest.

I remember walking through the front door, greeted by a sea of crying family. It was my eldest sister who hugged me first and said the famous words: ‘you have cancer’.

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Onwards and upwards???????????? #nomorechemo #byefelicia

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That first week was the worst. My days were full of appointments and it was weird to see my name on oncology lists and having to write down that I had breast cancer on every form. Last week, I was worried about my new job. This week, I was worried about the possibility of cancer in my brain. I couldn’t eat and I remember going to bed and my body would uncontrollably shake as I lay there.

I’ve never been an anxious person, but for me, I automatically associated cancer with death and I thought this was the start of the end for me. Knowing a lot more about cancer now, I know that isn’t true.

All my scans showed the cancer hadn’t spread, however my oncologist and surgeon warned me I had an aggressive type of cancer and I needed to start making decisions quickly. 11 days on from that horrible Sunday, and I was lying on an operating table about to get a some of my ovary taken out for fertility preservation and a porta cath inserted into my chest.

Because of my age and the type of cancer I had, my doctors were suspicious of a BRCA gene mutation in our family. We knew of a few cousins who had breast cancer on my dad’s side and my nanna on my mum’s, but they were all above 40 and we never knew of any faulty gene. After a long four weeks, it was confirmed that I unfortunately have the BRCA1 gene and it comes from my dad.

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We were all surprised as my grandma (who the gene was passed down to me from) lived to an impressive 102 and never had breast or ovarian cancer. Knowing more about my family history now, there have been five relatives with triple negative breast cancer and at least three with ovarian cancer.

Having BRCA1 has influenced my surgery decision as it has been highly recommended I get a double mastectomy to decrease the chance of reoccurrence. It also means that when I’m 35, I’ll have to start thinking about my ovaries and when I want to get them taken out, too.

So here I am today. I’ve finished 12 weekly cycles of Taxol/Carboplatium. I’m currently in my second cycle of fortnightly dose dense AC (two more to go). I have been put on a drug called Zoladex, so I’m currently going through menopause. Hello, hot flushes.

I’ve been to the emergency room once, and I need to inject myself multiple times a week. I’ve had a million blood tests, have eaten a million Weis Mango Ice Cream Bars because that’s all I feel like.

I’m completely bald, my body and life has changed in a million different ways, but I can’t help but feel so lucky.

 

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????❤️????????‍♂️@nathandgraham

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So lucky that I caught the cancer early, so lucky for the support that surrounds me, so lucky for the community I live in and so lucky to be part of a family with a long line of strong, independent women. Especially my Aunty Ruth who passed away recently from gallbladder cancer.

Because it’s only until you have gone through something like this that you realise how strong people can be.

I hope that from this experience, I can help others be strong too.

Monique was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer in November 2018. Not long after diagnosis, she discovered she is also a carrier of the genetic mutation, BRCA1, which can increase your risk of breast and ovarian cancer by as much as 71 per cent. Monique is sharing her story as our Ambassador for Pink Hope’s Pinky Promise campaign.

#PinkyPromise is a campaign dedicated to reminding Australian women to stop, reflect and reconsider the way they approach their health. In a time of soaring careers, of having it all, as women we are forgetting to prioritise the one thing that can we help us achieve success, our health.

For more information on breast cancer and the BRCA gene, visit the Pink Hope website.

For more stories from women about their cancer experiences, read more below:

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