WHAT A WEEK!!! I know I’ve preached in the past about my self-inflicted rule: ‘one activity a day’, let’s just say, it’s been completely blown out of the water *smacks hand*. Just when I thought I had recovered from Christmas and New Years, it’s been an extra lively week: A 1000 word story due, jobs to get parkrun ready for its first trial, visitors from London out in ‘da Switch, round three of chemo, and one more thing… one VERY important piece of the treatment puzzle… I had my genetic consultation. Bear with me, I’ll explain.
I have always felt it important to have my genes tested: to know if the cancer was inherited due to a gene mutation, or environmental. It helps make the best, qualified decisions about treatment. Knowledge is power. My proposed treatment plan is as follows: six weeks of radiation to follow chemo or, if my genetic results show that it is a gene mutation causing the cancer, I will choose to have a double mastectomy, instead of radiation. Before someone overseas reads this and starts questioning me, this is based on Australian practice. I know patients in Canada still undergo radiation, even after having a double mastectomy. I’m grateful to be in Australia right now.
I was also extremely lucky – blessed – fortunate to get an appointment this week! My original appointment wasn’t until March 26. The timing was definitely not working in my favour. They wanted to start radiation at the end of Feb. I could see things getting tricky as it takes four to six weeks to get your results back after your blood test.
I asked, “How long can I delay radiation to get my genetic testing done. Would it be safe to delay radiation by a few months? Is that standard, or allowed practice?”
Still no answer! I put it out to the universe, with my positive thoughts (and I’m sure many prayers from mother and her church friends) that I would get an appointment earlier. And I did. Phew…My blood test is booked for Jan 28 and my follow up appointment to receive the results Feb 28. At this stage my “end of treatment” date should only be delayed by a week. Good: I’ve got things to do!
Enough about me; let’s talk about genetics.
I have pulled some information from the not-always-trusted, World Wide Web. It seems accurate, though:
Some people inherit altered genes that may predispose them to developing particular cancers. For example, a woman who has inherited a single altered copy of one of the specific breast cancer genes (known as BRCA1 and BRCA2) has a higher risk of breast and ovarian cancer than a woman who inherited two normal copies of both genes. However, only around five out of every hundred cases of breast cancer may be due to an inherited genetic predisposition.
Let me take it out of the scientific context to the real-life world:
Unless you’ve lived under a rock this past year, you probably heard that Angelina Jolie had a preventative double mastectomy. Due to her family history, she elected to be tested for the gene mutation. It showed that she carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation. Her decision was to undergo a “preventative” double mastectomy.
Her statistics of developing cancer by caring the BRCA1 mutation were as follows:
- 87% lifetime risk of developing breast cancer
- 40% lifetime risk of developing ovarian cancer
By having a preventative double mastectomy, her chances of developing breast cancer dropped to 5%! Now, for me, that’s a no-brainer.
Since I already have cancer, I only think in terms of reoccurrence. Armed with notebook and pen for my appointment, we made our way to the Wesley Medical Centre to meet with Dr Michael Gattas. Note: the notebook seemed like a wise addition after I put the ice-tray in the fridge that morning… clearly suffering chemo brain.
Here is a snippet of information provided by Dr Gattas…
Firstly, anyone under 40 who develops early breast cancer has a 10% chance of carrying the gene mutation. Not much, really. Also, it was interesting to learn that the BRCA gene mutation can come from either parent. There is always so much emphasis looking at family history on the mothers side: Did you mother have breast cancer? …Sister? …Grandma? …But interestingly, your father can pass down the BRCA mutation.
Commonly, people think that once you have a double mastectomy, you can’t get breast cancer again, wrong! I know this shocks most people. Even though most of the breast tissue is removed during the mastectomy, a tiny amount usually remains. Also, the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation also affects your ovaries. If you carry the gene mutation, you have 30-40% chance of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer (before you’re 80). Wow. Lot’s to think about, not only for me; but my sister; and mother.
After chemo finishes, depending on my genetic results, I will happy go ahead with radiation, or back under the knife. It’s an easy decision for me, but I know others have a different mindset: I haven’t had a child, what if I want to breastfeed later in life? Dr Gattas also raised this point. He suggested some young woman whom receive a positive result for the gene mutation, will delay surgery until after having children. For me, this doesn’t seem wise. I am not supposed to have children for two or three years, or longer. Reoccurrence is higher in the first five years. I would rather give myself the upper hand as much as possible…but that’s just me.
I should probably finish the blog here, but I can’t sign off without giving a mini shout out about our first parkrun trial! Yes, I know you have heard me go on, and on about parkrun. It’s finally here. Some questioned the timing of the first trial; two days after chemo… No problem! With pills on hand, and an excessive amount of support, I wasn’t worried a bit. It was a small turn out; which in hindsight was a good thing. It went off without a hitch; technology included. All eleven runners enjoyed the course – hills and all.
After a post-parkrun breakfast with some good friends and cuddle with Baby Mia, a dash home to upload the data, it’s now time for a nap before my next outing of the day.