My older sister Michelle and I were best friends. In 2014, we were devastated when our dad Geoff, then 60, was diagnosed with prostate cancer – the fourth person in our family to have cancer.
Dad’s mum and his sister had died from breast cancer, and his other sister had fought it too.
Worried, Michelle, then 29, and I got tested for the breast cancer gene, BRCA1.
To our shock, we both tested positive.
We had an 80 per cent chance of getting breast cancer, and 40 per cent of getting ovarian cancer.
‘It’s not a case of if but when,’ the doctor said.
We began getting regular screenings together.
Will it be today? I’d think, checking my boobs daily.
Two years later, I had a scare, but it was a false alarm.
‘I can’t bear it any longer,’ I said to Michelle.
‘Me neither,’ she said.
So we decided to each have a double mastectomy.
Feeling scared, we were grateful when the Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre in Melbourne agreed to perform our operations on the same day, using the same surgeons.
And we’d have reconstruction directly after.
Michelle went first and I followed. After four-and-a-half-hour surgeries, we woke up in opposite beds on the ward.
‘Shall we look at our new boobs?’ I said.
So we both took a peek.
Thankfully the surgeons had done a wonderful job.
‘It’s such a relief not to worry any more,’ Michelle said.
Our chances of getting cancer in any remaining breast tissue was five per cent.
It was an empowering thing to have done. Four days later we were discharged and, a month on, we’re doing well.
Down the track we may consider having our ovaries removed to lessen the chance of getting ovarian cancer, but that’s another hurdle we’ll face together.
Michelle is a already a mum of two, and I hope to have children in the future.
We’re grateful to have had each other’s support. And we’ve been greatly helped by Pink Hope, a support group for women facing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
Luckily, Dad is now in remission but I’d encourage everyone to speak to relatives about family history of cancer and consider getting tested. Thankfully, our sister Jessica, 29, does not carry the gene.
The surgery took a big weight off our chests – and I’m glad I had my ‘breast’ friend with me along the way! ●
What is the BRCA gene?
• Women who have inherited mutations in the BRCA1 or BRCA2 genes are at an increased risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer.
• A blood test can identify these mutations.