How did you find out about the BRCA gene? Hopefully, you are still one of those that haven’t heard of it, or have only heard of it thanks to Angelina and Sharon. These days, those that haven’t heard of it are fewer and further between.
Michelle hadn’t heard of BRCA despite her significant family history of female cancers. When her, then pregnant, Maternal Aunt, developed breast Cancer at the age of 42, she had the test for the BRCA 1 gene; the test was positive.
Michelle knew that there was a chance that she carried the gene. She contemplated the test and gathered information for 10 years, finally deciding to have the test.
In 2005 Michelle went for testing along with her mother, after it was suggested that she too should also be tested for the gene. The tests came back positive for both Michelle and her mum who both carried the BRCA 1 gene mutation; although this was the outcome she expected, Michelle still felt an overwhelming sense of shock and numbness, ‘no-one is ever really prepared for that news’.
Following the diagnosis, Michelle was very well looked after by the NHS. Michelle was receiving regular breast and ovarian screening.
The screening all felt quite ‘normal’ to Michelle, as her mum had been attending screening for the past ten years. Six months after the gene was found, Michelle’s mum, aged 50, had been told she had breast cancer, and her treatment began. Michelle’s efforts were now focussed on supporting her mum fight this cancer. After a lumpectomy, radiotherapy and chemotherapy, treatment was over and Michelle’s mum was cancer-free.
Michelle had known she was a carrier of the BRCA gene for a long time and had been contemplating her decision. When her mum was diagnosed it felt as though cancer was a little too close to home and real, so Michelle decided to have her ovaries removed in a lengthy process.
In April 2007 Michelle had a hysterectomy which she says was an easy decision to make and there were no doubts about going ahead with the procedure. After being blessed with a wonderful son 7 years prior, it was more important for her to be around for him than to have more children. During surgery a few complications were found, including endometriosis and a cyst on her ovary, upon hearing this news afterwards, Michelle knew she had made the right decision.
Michelle’s mum had been cancer-free for nearly 5 years when she heard that another round of treatment was necessary, the breast cancer had returned and she had a mastectomy. Again, the cancer was defeated.
It was time for Michelle to look for support. A great responsibility comes with the test and the decisions made, as the results are life changing. Michelle needed to speak to others that had her experience but she couldn’t find anyone. Not one to be beaten (we think she gets that from her mum) Michelle started an online support group on Facebook. She believed there was a need for a support network for BRCA patients along with their friends and family to share stories and experiences. The group is a huge success and continues to grow.
Initially, Michelle decided against a risk-reducing double mastectomy. However, her mind was changed when a good friend who carried the BRCA gene died of cancer; a realisation that she didn’t want to wait for cancer to be found was enough to change her mind. In November 2012 Michelle opted for a double mastectomy with immediate reconstruction.
It was important for Michelle to choose the right surgeon for this operation, and after looking, she chose Andrew Baildam. Michelle felt comfortable and confident in Professor Baildam’s hands. Professor Bailim is based at Bart’s in London and was very highly recommended by a few of her fellow BRCA positive friends.
During this time Michelle started a blog to document her memories and experiences pre and post mastectomy, this also helped to focus her attention during her recovery. Michelle has recently undergone her second surgery for reconstruction in November 2013. (We interviewed her merely days after her surgery and she looked amazing!)
Michelle has total conviction over her decision to take preventative action, but knows that everyone who is diagnosed with the BRCA gene needs to make their own mind up.
The main objective of the BRCA Babes Calendar is to raise awareness of the gene and to signpost the support available for those affected. Along with managing her Facebook support group, Michelle devotes her working week to running a National Hereditary Breast Cancer helpline shop in Nottingham.
Leave A Comment
Thank you for sharing Michelle.
We all need to keep sharing our stories.
Amy Byer Shainman
BRCA Health Advocate
BRCA1 positive, Previvor
Become an ambassador
If you are interested in working with us, please read our information about becoming an ambassador.