My Dance with the Devil
As a passionate creative, I’m usually working behind the scenes making all kinds of spaces, places and people look amazing so people feel genuinely connected to them. As a Brand Manager and Creative Designer, I’m not usually the one who is centre stage, so dancing to raise awareness and funds for the brilliant work of the Cancer Council will most definitely challenge me! I have been incredibly fortunate to spend the last 21 years of my career growing and developing as a creative leader at Mingara Leisure Group across all of our venues within NSW. It has been the most wonderful and rewarding magic carpet ride, with the most encouraging people who are like my family. It has taken me to places I never dreamed of and given me learning and opportunities that have pushed me far out of my comfort zone. Our vision to make a significant contribution to the quality of community life is why we do what we do and I love this! I’m am so fortunate, that even after all this time, my work continues to challenge and excite me. How blessed I am!
Personally, I’m a mum to 3 wonderful kids, who make me immensely proud. They run me ragged at 10, 13 and 17, but I wouldn’t swap them for the world. We are a Martial Arts family and have been involved in Karate and now Kickboxing with Black Belt Martial Arts (BBMA) for the last decade. It is a discipline, an outlet, a community and a healthy lifestyle choice we enjoy. I started my own Martial Arts 18 months ago, training with one of my best friends and my 17 year old son, both supporting me to become strong again following preventative breast cancer surgeries.
In 2019, I received a letter from my cousin who had been diagnosed with breast cancer a few years earlier…and her mother, my aunty, about 30 years ago. At the time of her breast surgery, my cousin gave permission for her tissue to be tested for research. As a result, we have discovered a genetic mutation within our family attributed to not only breast cancer, but a few other types of cancers too. The letter suggested close family members consider genetic testing to find out if they carried the gene mutation. After losing my Dad very suddenly to cancer in 2015, my brother and I decided to have genetic testing at the Kinghorn Cancer Centre at St Vincent’s Hospital. We were counselled by a Professor and given lots information, then it was a simple blood test. After a 6 week wait, I got the phone call that I had tested positive to our family gene mutation. The feeling of being given that news was like no other feeling I have ever experienced. I was immediately terrified. The gene is not the usual BRCA1/BRCA2 that is widely publicised for breast and ovarian cancer, my mutated gene is called ATM (there are many others too) I was given a horrifying statistic from the Professor. He told me my risk of getting breast cancer was greater than 1:2, so extremely likely and more than the flip of a coin. Heads or tails….it didn’t matter which way that coin landed. My risk of getting breast cancer was almost certain.
I underwent extensive genetic counselling to discuss my options. There were really only 3 choices:
- Ignore it and just get on with my life, not worrying about the potential impacts or future of my children or myself. Not an option for me!
- Scan regularly – mammogram and ultrasound and wait for an early diagnosis. I couldn’t cope with the anxiety before and after every scan for the rest of my healthy life. Not an option for me!
- Be proactive, take control and have preventative surgery. This was the only way I could almost (not entirely) reduce my risk of getting breast cancer. This was the option for me!
In February 2020, I bravely underwent a prophylactic bilateral mastectomy at the Chris O’Brien Lifehouse at Camperdown in Sydney. Thankfully, my surgery was without complication and I spent 7 days in hospital there under the care of my wonderful surgeon, Dr Paul Chen. I spent the next 3 months recovery with drains and tissue expanders…during the first Covid-19 lockdown. My second surgery for breast reconstruction was delayed, however in June I was called back into surgery to complete the reconstruction surgery swapping tissue expanders for breast implants. Once again, a significant amount of recovery time was needed, however the support from community nurses, Dr Chen and my family and friends got me through. I immediately started exercises and getting my mobility back. 6 week after my reconstruction surgery, I received medical clearance to start Kickboxing. This was my recovery goal…and boy did it feel great to get on that mat!
My decision to undergo preventative surgery was very personal. My family history on my Dad’s side with regards to cancer is dreadful. The line is there and the science has backed it up. My grandfather, my dad, my aunty, my cousin…all got cancer. Then there was me. The one who made it to 46 without a diagnosis. I decided surgery was the only prevention given my family history and the statistics I was presented with. I chose prophylactic surgery for my children firstly. One day, I may need to help them also make this decision and other hard ones, so they need their mum. I want to be here to see them grow, hug them through the good and the bad and one day see their children. I could not let my children go through what I went through watching my Dad deteriorate from cancer. He was diagnosed at Stage 4 and died 6 weeks later.
My family cancer story doesn’t end there. About 7 months after my final surgery, in February 2021, my darling mum was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 72. She found a lump herself and immediately went to get it checked. Again, we got the news we didn’t want to hear. Mum had Stage 3 Breast Cancer. Her quick action saw immediate surgery followed by months of chemotherapy. Her body didn’t cope well with the chemo, she got very sick and very frail, but she soldiered on. She lost her hair, her eyelashes, her finger and toe nails. Her positive attitude and resilience amazed and inspired us. Following chemo she went straight on to radiation treatment and again, managed this largely on her own because of Covid-19 restrictions. She is now on hormone treatment and we have had great news regarding her follow up scans. We are hopeful her treatment has worked and she will go on to regain her strength and confidence as her body and mind recover.
So these stories are why I’m getting involved with Dancing with the Stars. I’m not sure I’ll be a great dancer, but it’s time to have a bit of fun and turn some negative energy into something positive. In particular, I hope my story around being positive to a mutated cancer causing gene and managing this proactively can help others who find themselves in a similar circumstance. It is, without question, scary and incredibly confronting, but it can be faced and your cancer risk can be significantly reduced.
Thank you to my Sponsors
Clubsnsw Central Coast
All The Team At Mingara
Display Power Group
The Roasted Berry, Mingara
Paul & Lynne Barnett
Daniel And Mark Drysdale Orren
Ashley Stevenson And Melissa Lamb
Kylie And Jason Fenton