At just twenty-seven years old, Angela was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early-stage breast cancer. Her family history deeply influenced her experience, with Angela’s grandmother, grandfather, and great-grandmother grappling with early-onset breast and ovarian cancers.
The pivotal role of family history became evident when Angela's aunt and mother prompted her to undergo BRCA genetic testing, revealing that she, along with her brother, carried the BRCA 2 genetic mutation at the age of twenty-three.
With this genetic knowledge, Angela felt empowered to take control of her health through early screening and breast checks. She shared, "It meant that I had the knowledge to start screening and breast checking early. Because of that, I could catch the breast cancer before it spread to my lymph nodes."
Angela stated that she also had a regular self-breast check routine between her yearly GP visits and checks, but the most crucial element was staying on top of her risk and getting her screening done.
Angela's vigilance in breast health was driven by the impact of her family's history. Despite initial recommendations against early screening, Angela's belief in the power of self-advocacy pushed her to challenge advice.
She mentions, “When I found out I had the BRCA gene mutation, I was advised not to start screening until I was thirty because the risk of getting cancer at a young agewas really low. My question was then…well, am I going to be in the 99% that it won’t happen or in the 1% that it could happen? And I think knowing that there was always a chance, I really advocated for myself and pushed back.”
After receiving a referral from her GP, Angela underwent a series of screenings, including a mammogram, MRI, and ultrasound. She said, “The process was really straightforward for me. I got the screening done, then the biopsy, followed by a bilateral mastectomy and sentinel lymph node biopsy three weeks after my DCIS diagnosis.”
“I was already familiar with Pink Hope and had engaged in discussions within the community about bilateral mastectomy, which made it clear to me that it was the path I wanted to take. The diagnosis itself made the surgery a no-brainer for me.”
“Once I got my results from the node biopsy, I found out the staging was high-grade DCIS, and my medical team decided I didn’t need any further treatment in terms of suppressing the hormones since I was young and still wanted to have children.”
Despite the straightforward nature of the treatment process, Angela navigated physical and emotional challenges.
“After surgery, it took about six weeks until it got to a point where I could function like before and then another few months until I felt like I could get back to normal and start exercising and moving my body. The healing process takes time, and you have to be really gentle with yourself.”
“Emotionally, it was a shock for me, but trying to look at the positive side of it all helped me manage. It’s easy to let your mind wander into dark places because of the negative associations with the word ‘cancer’. My advice is to stay off the internet and not go down that research rabbit hole. Listen to what your doctors have to say.”
“I also think it helped that I was proactive in making decisions, knowing that I had options and a great team of doctors around me that I could trust.”
When asked about her self-image and relationship with her body throughout her experience, she said, “It was really confronting, but I now have a deep respect for my body and what it’s been through. It’s translated to how I look after myself by eating well and exercising. I always tried to look after myself, but I take it much more seriously now.”
“Physically, it’s a work in progress every day in terms of what I look like, the scars I have, and what that means to me emotionally. Every day, I get better at seeing them as a symbol of strength, resilience and courage instead of the negative connotation of what it means to have had cancer.”
“Having a tight-knit support group of close friends and family was also really important for navigating the experience. When creating that network, I found that not everyone will understand the weight of a cancer diagnosis and what you’ll go through physically and emotionally. It’s important not to dwell on that; instead, connect with people who can support you no matter what and who you feel comfortable to be open with because you can’t do it alone.”
“And, being open with my friends meant I had some influence over their breast health, prompting them to be aware that it can happen in your 20s and they could get checked.”
Angela emphasised that she also found an invaluable source of support in the Pink Hope community.
"Pink Hope for me has been instrumental in encouraging me to be proactive in my health. They supported me from the beginning of my BRCA 2 diagnosis through surgery and beyond. I found the events informative and their blogs with personal stories so empowering. Those stories provided so much comfort for me, knowing that I wasn’t alone."
“I feel like a Pink Hope success story – I got informed early on through their resources, connected with the right doctors, was supported the entire way through and came out on the other side.”
Angela’s experience is a testament to the power of proactive breast health management, self-advocacy, and community support. She leaves this crucial advice, “Take charge of your health. If you know you have the BRCA gene, take it seriously. Advocate for yourself. Self-breast check and get screened – even if your doctor doesn’t think you need it. If you feel in your body that you need it, then do it.”
Discover Empowering Resources: Are you facing a breast cancer diagnosis or want to support a loved one? Explore Pink Hope's breast cancer support resources for more guidance.
Self-Breast Check Automated Reminder: To make self-breast checks part of your regular self-care routine, check out Pink Hope’s automated reminder tool here.
This content is brought to you in partnership with Novartis and developed independently by the team at Pink Hope.