“I think if I hadn’t have had cancer, and got the news that I had this gene, I’m not sure how I would have reacted. It sounds strange, but my BRCA mutation almost gave me a reason for why I was diagnosed with breast cancer so young, and that was a relief. That I could put a reason to it.”
Diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer at just 37, Sarah’s journey with BRCA started just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, in 2019. She is now sharing her story to make people more aware of what BRCA is, and the implications that come with a positive BRCA test.
“I had heard about the BRCA gene because of Michelle Heaton and Angelina Jolie, but it wasn’t ever something I thought about. When I was originally diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2019, because I was so young, my oncologist suggested I go on for genetic testing. I didn’t think too much about it at the time, as I was more focused on treating my cancer, but I went in anyway and I ended up getting my appointment in July from James’.”
In September 2019, Sarah received the news that she did in fact have a BRCA 2 Gene mutation and there would be decisions she would have to make to help reduce her risk of developing cancer in the future.
“I was lucky in a way that I got my results before I had surgery for my cancer. I was a candidate for a lumpectomy, but because I was BRCA2, we decided to go with a double mastectomy to avoid kicking the problem down the road. When I found out I had the BRCA gene, I was like a dog with a bone. I told the genetic counsellor in St. James’ I wanted all the surgeries done. It was more so for peace of mind, I just wanted them to take what they had to take so I could get on with things, and have that burden and anxiety off my back.”
Because Sarah had been diagnosed with cancer, she needed to remain flat after her mastectomy to accommodate additional radiotherapy needed to combat her cancer. Her original gynae surgery was scheduled for April 2020, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this was pushed back to July 2020. Sarah then had her breast reconstruction surgery in July 2021, marking the end of her risk reducing surgery journey.
As Sarah already had two children, she says the decision to go ahead with having her ovaries removed was an easier decision for her. However, having a family during and after a BRCA gene diagnosis is not without it’s challenges.
“I have two kids, so at the moment I’m trying to weight up the decisions of whether to tell them early, or to wait until they’re 18. I’m torn because when I was in having chemo, there were girls in their 20’s having treatment for breast cancer, and because I was diagnosed young, I want to give them the information they need, without making them feel like they are ticking time bombs. It’s difficult.”
Sarah suspects that the BRCA gene came through her father’s line as Sarah’s mother went for private genetic testing and tested negative. Sarah’s father had a melanoma removed a number of years ago (those with a BRCA2 mutation can experience a heightened risk of melanoma). However, other than melanoma, no one else in Sarah’s family has been diagnosed with cancer to date. Sarah’s father and brother are currently waiting to be tested through the public system.
Sarah is the kind of person that once she had made a decision “there is no going back”, and as a result, she has managed much of her treatment, appointments and support services herself. When looking for information surrounding BRCA Risk-reducing surgeries, she originally came upon the Marie Keating Foundation as one of the only outlets of accurate information and support for the BRCA Community in Ireland.
“I attended one of the Foundation’s virtual BRCA conferences during COVID and I found that invaluable. This is where I got most of my information and it helped me feel secure in the decisions I had made when it came to facing menopause and all the other things that come with BRCA. I also went through the Foundation’s Peer to Peer support network and spoke to one of their volunteers and it just put my mind at ease. I’m now a member of their Online BRCA support group, and I love that I can dip in and out of meetings and that my life doesn’t need to be consumed by this one part of me.”
Sarah is also a contributor to our free BRCA Whatsapp group, where our members share personal stories, good and bad times, frustrations and new information regarding treatments and updates on the gene mutation they all share.
“The Marie Keating Foundation has been one of the only places I found that provided up to date, and supportive information for people with a BRCA gene in Ireland. The ladies in our group are much more than a support network, we are there for each other, share information and keep each other up to date on all things BRCA. It’s nice to know that you are not in this alone, as sometimes that is how it can feel, and that you have a network of people, all different ages, from different places, some with a cancer history, some not, all coming together to support each other. It’s a club no one wants to be in, but we’re here now, so we might as well make the best of it.”
To learn more about the Marie Keating Foundation’s BRCA support services, and register for our upcoming BRCA conference, click here.