My name is Tania and a BRCA2 carrier, which puts me at a higher risk of developing both breast and ovarian cancer.
I come from a big extended family and at 8 years old, my mother who was 33 then was diagnosed with breast cancer. This was in the 1980’s and what she didn't know is that her sisters, brothers, dad and later on nieces, nephews and countless others would be affected by an unknown threat and a killer all the same.
During my mother’s fight with breast cancer, my grand-dad was diagnosed with throat cancer and a year later her younger sister too was diagnosed with breast cancer. This followed with three other sisters later on getting diagnosed with breast cancer, all with young families and not all responding to treatment.
Due to our family history, both myself, my twin, mother and aunts took part in a research programme in the early 90’s to help discover the cause of the cancers in my family. I was 17 at that time and I remember being terrified of the what if’s and the future. The research revealed, the long cause of cancer in my family was inherited from my grand-dad’s side, he had unknowingly passed on the ‘BRCA Gene Mutation’. This did not come as a big surprise, we knew all the cancers had to be inherited somehow. However getting our heads around of what the future may hold wasn't easy.
I felt like I had borrowed time and I held back from finding out my results until I was 30 purely because in the early 90’s I couldn't be advised how a positive BRCA result would discriminate me from say insurance and that kind of implication. Hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genetic counselling was new territory. At 30, I found out I was a BRCA2 carrier. I was then advised a double mastectomy or taking tamoxifen would be the best choices in order to reduce my chances of developing breast cancer and later on think about ovaries and tubual removal(Bso). All my relatives breast cancer had happened young. I had to act.
“While friends were worried about outfits for Saturday night, I just wanted to stay well it was that simple.”
Whilst, breast cancer is more common in my family, being a BRCA2 carrier means that I’m also at risk of developing ovarian cancer. I'm almost 45 and more terrified at the thought of having my ovaries removed than I was with my breasts. I do sometimes wonder why I'm so hesitant when I'm almost menopausal, I guess I'm waiting for the day when a screening tool for ovarian cancer will be available and it may allow me to keep them. Having my ovaries removed will give me peace of mind, I’m currently on a cross-road trying to weigh up how I will cope with the sudden menopause and other health risks. None of the women in my family have had ovarian cancer and I suppose that has given me some reassurance that I can keep them for a little bit longer, but I know that does not take away my risk of developing ovarian cancer.
Knowledge is power and these decisions are not easy to make and even harder when trying to explain your decisions to people who have not dealt with or familiar with the hereditary cancers and genetic mutations. I have three children, young adults now and knowing they will have to go through the genetics testing and potential illness or prevention surgery is a painful contemplation.
Given my family history, I am blessed that I am still here at 45. I often think of the lives of my relatives that were cut short by cancer, leaving behind their young families in their 30’s. There are still more prevention choices that I have to make but for now I am grateful for each day I get to spend with my loved ones.
Tania Murray is the founder of BRCA 1 & 2 Ireland and the UK support group for anyone affected by the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene or other high risk genetic mutations. She found the group following a failed breast reconstruction and saw how connections helped overcome health challenges.
If you like Tania, come from a family with history of breast cancer, speak to your GP to find out if you are eligible for a genetics testing.