Megan’s tough decisions

PREVENTION: Mount Gambier/Berrin resident Megan Medhurst has had a double mastectomy in order to prevent developing breast cancer in the future after testing positive for the BRCA2 gene.

Charlotte Varcoe

IT was not until her mother was diagnosed with cancer that Mount Gambier/Berrin resident Megan Medhurst began to think about her future.

Ms Medhurst was only in her teenage years when her mother was battling breast cancer and feared it would one day be her.

Then, when her family decided to take on genetic testing Ms Medhurst discovered she had the BRCA-two gene.

The BRCA-two gene is one of two hereditary breast and ovarian cancer genes which increases the carrier’s chances of developing breast, ovarian, pancreatic and melanoma cancer.

After testing positive, Ms Medhurst decided to have preventative surgery which included having both breasts removed in a double mastectomy.

She is now in the process of organising a salpingo-oophorectomy to remove her ovaries, but leave her uterus and cervix.

“When my mum had breast cancer we thought there might be something there so we did a bit of genetic testing through the general practitioner and that started the process,” she said.

“It came back that my mum and aunt were both BRCA-two positive, their two siblings were not positive and my sister also got tested but she was negative.”

Ms Medhurst said when her mother was diagnosed she began mentally preparing herself for the possibility it could be her one day.

“I had a feeling I was carrying the gene and generally it is only when you find a lump or you are not well that you go down that family history,” she said.

“Now there is more known about genetic testing and finding out if you are susceptible to this and it is really important to make the right decisions for you where it can be monitored and you can hope for the best.”

She said she decided to take preventative measures to put her mind at ease in the future, keeping her family front of mind.

“When I was making the decision to have the surgeries I was thinking about how I won’t get sick and I will still be able to be here for my family which was my main priority,” she said.

“I also wondered what it would make me feel afterwards as having breasts is a majority of me as a female, it was my appearance and I was very concerned about that as well.

“I did feel like it was taking away that little bit of femininity, but by having the reconstruction surgery straight away it put my mind at ease.”

Ms Medhurst said after testing positive there was a big process ahead of her but looking back she knew taking preventative measures was the best option.

“I opted to do a double mastectomy and reconstruction in one go which was a really big surgery,” she said.

“It was about a 12 to 14 hour surgery and it also took a big strain on the family as I had to take three months off work because it is a slow recovery.

“I felt really confident about doing it and it was a good decision even though it was a big one.”

Alongside the reconstruction, Ms Medhurst recently underwent a “tidy up” surgery and a nipple reconstruction with the Pink Lotus team in Adelaide tattooing nipples to complete the process.

“Having the nipple reconstruction and tattooing brings back [my] femininity,” she said.

“I am now in the process of having my ovaries and tubes removed which will happen before the end of this year then I will go on hormone replacement therapy for at least 10 years.”

She said by having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed it would bring on early menopause with the hormone treatment preventing that.

“I do find it is a little bit overwhelming on that side of things because I was more in control of what was happening to me beforehand but this is a bit of the unknown,” she said.

“I am pleased to get to this stage, but I am also a bit daunted at the same time, even though this surgery is much less invasive.”

Despite her concerns, Ms Medhurst said the local support network was fantastic as she remained open and honest about her journey.

“I think it is important to talk and especially as I am not in my 40s yet it is important to know there are things which can happen and you will be okay,” she said.

“People are able to do as much preventative work as they can.”

She said having preventative surgery was a big decision which needed not only family and friends support but also support from work.

“Having three months off work you don’t have an income coming in, so it is hard to put the family under a bit of financial strain,” she said.

“I was lucky enough to receive a helping handbag from the local awareness group and I was quite taken aback with that because it was really lovely.”

It was that helping handbag which prompted Ms Medhurst to join the Mount Gambier Breast Cancer Awareness Group as a committee member and continue on the Mothers Day Classic committee.

“I was told there was going to be a spot free on the awareness group committee and so I decided to join,” she said.

“Going through a different scenario to some of the ladies on the team is good and although I haven’t had cancer itself I was susceptible to it which is a big thing as well.

“To have that knowledge in the back of my mind that I could have been really sick and not make it was still a massive issue to deal with.”

Ms Medhurst said those who were carriers of the gene should ensure they have the support of their general practitioner and get an avenue of support.

“There is also genetic counselling which is really helpful and carriers should get lots of views and opinions and make their own choices from there,” she said.

“You have to be comfortable with the final result.”