I guess a good place to start is to say I’m very sure, sadly, that everyone reading this would have had their own personal experiences with Cancer. If not yourself, a close family member, a friend, a parent, child, work mate, anyone that you cared enough about, or got close enough to, to see the devastating affect it can have.

And as odd as it may sound, there’s comfort in that. In knowing we are all in it together, that it affects or has affected all of us, in one way or another.

Approximately 145,000 new cases of cancer were diagnosed in Australia just last year, that’s an average of 397 diagnosis per day.

Or, closer to home, there’s 5000 people that are currently living with cancer in the Northern Territory.

Obviously there are many reasons, someone can get cancer; lifestyle choices play a HUGE role in your health and 1 in 3 cancers can be prevented by the choices we make every day.

BUT you can relax, I am NOT writing this today to tell you to eat more kale and to say ‘no thanks’ to that glass of wine. What I am here to tell you about, is just one story amongst many in the Territory; my story. My family’s story.

I guess it’s probably a good time to tell you, that I have not myself, had cancer. Not yet. Whilst some may think how I worded that may sound a little bleak, the truth is, it’s incredibly likely I will get cancer, in fact I’ve been told by some doctors, that it’s not if I get it, but when.

There is an 80% chance that I will contract breast cancer from age 30 and as much as I’d like to tell you I’m not there yet, I am 33, so I live with those odds now daily. There’s also a 44% chance I will contract Ovarian Cancer at some point in my life.

How do I know this? It’s because I carry a gene mutation that is hereditary. It’s called BRCA1 (pronounced BRACKA - ONE) and both men and women can carry it and have a 50% chance of passing it down to their child; son or daughter. See, not only does this gene massively increase breast and ovarian cancer in women, it also increases risk of prostate cancer in men from an early age.

So I’ll let you in on how we found out this genetic test was even possible.

When my mum, Yanya, was just two years younger than I am now at 31, she found a pea-sized lump in her breast. After a scary first few months and nothing but the big C and her 2 little girls; myself and my big sister on her mind, she found out it was an aggressive form of Breast Cancer. Straight away she was advised to get a lumpectomy, to remove half of her left breast and to undergo intense radiation. The treatment was successful.

As I was growing up, I remember mum being so self-conscious of her body. She would have to stuff stockings in one side of her bra, just to make it look even in a shirt. She wasn’t educated back then about the amazing prosthetics in bras that the Cancer Council can assist you with these days.

As a little girl, I remember seeing mum get out of the shower with one boob and a large scar in the other one’s place. But not once, did I ever think that she was not beautiful.
I only wish I wasn’t so young when it happened and I could have held her hand and told her how beautiful, feminine and strong I thought she was.

Then 14 years later, at 45 years old, she found another lump in the same breast. This time, radiation wasn’t going to cut it and she underwent an intense course of chemotherapy. It was just me and my step dad at home to care for her, and I was in high school and he worked full time so it was definitely one of the more testing times in our lives. But, we looked after our queen, and once again, she showed that shit who was boss, and survived breast cancer once more.

It was only 2 years ago now, that cancer returned, this time in her brain and lung. My sister and I being old enough and mature enough to join my step dad now, dropped everything and cared for her. We accompanied her on every oncology appointment, every trip to the Alan Walker centre for radiation, all the tough appointments in between that I still struggle to talk about, and eventually her oncologist looked back at mum’s history of cancer and told Jess, my sister and I that because mum had breast cancer so early at only 31, that we REALLY should go and see a Genetics Councillor and get tested for the BRCA1 gene.
He drilled us every time we went to an appointment, telling mum to get tested for the gene mutation first and then for us to follow suit.

Mum’s test came back positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Which meant she was 6 times more likely to contract breast cancer than someone without it.

Soon after those results came back, mum lost her battle with cancer. Only a year after her diagnosis this time, she was gone.

Needless to say our world came crashing down.

That’s when Jess and I thought, we don’t want anyone we love going through anything like this. Not our family, especially not our kids. So we spoke to Cancer Council NT and we decided to start a journey and document our experience finding out about this gene, if we carried it and what we could do to potentially lower or stop our risk of going through Breast Cancer.

We had testing done and met up with our genetics councillor, I remember sitting down in her office, she knew our whole story, she met mum only months earlier before she passed. And before she even opened her mouth in that appointment with Jess and I, a tear rolled down her face. She said I’m sorry girls but BOTH of you have the BRCA1 gene mutation.

It was crappy news. But, instead of shaking our fists at the sky or rocking back and forth in a dark corner, we actually looked at each other and felt empowered.

We knew we had taken a step to not sit around and wait for fate to step in. We don’t have to be victims waiting around for awful news, there was a chance we could prevent getting cancer or at the least, catch it early. We had ‘one up’ on the disease.

So now Jess and I, every year, sometimes twice a year, go in for breast MRI’s and internal pelvic ultrasounds.. Which let me tell you aren’t fun, and every time a needle is put in our arm or we hear the deafening banging sound in an MRI machine, we are taken back to sitting beside mum in all those tests. It’s hard. But not being on top of this, would be harder.

Every single time Jess and I get results back saying we are in the clear, we celebrate with a sleepover and a cheeky bottle of champagne. We celebrate life.
I’ve got to say, knowing we have such a likelihood of getting this disease has really made me step up. I value being able to move my body, exercise, I hold my friends and family tighter because I know how much is on the line. I utilise my private health, get remedial massages monthly and make sure my mind is right.

There are so many maybes ahead, but also so many options for women with this gene mutation.

Maybe a preventative double mastectomy is on the cards for me. Yep, literally removing both my breasts (and nipples in most cases) in order to have a better chance at living a full life. I also want to start a family soon with my husband Rhys, his dad had prostate cancer at 54 and passed away that same year. So what if Rhys has the gene too? A bit of weight is on our shoulders thinking about now passing this gene down to our kids.

But one step at a time.

Right now, we still have our health, and the ball is in our court to be proactive on the road to prevention and awareness, and in Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the ball is also in your court, to get those boobs checked. Do the ‘cheeky check’ in the shower for lumps or bumps, or book that mammogram.

There are upsides to everything, and maybe in this case, it’s knowing how fragile life can be. It’s time to appreciate what your body can do and treat it accordingly.

Big love to anyone who is currently going through any type of cancer, is a carer or has lost someone close to them. You are not alone.