Pastor's wife gets a preventative mastectomy

Wednesday 14 April, 2010 by Rhiannon

Hi, I am Rhiannon, aged 37. I'm a swimming teacher, website designer, mother of the 3 most gorgeous kids in the world and the wife of a Pastor.

One of the last things my mother ever said to me was to do everything I could to avoid getting this breast cancer. My mum found out she had breast cancer at 41 years of age, and died 9 months later. I remember coming home from university one weekend to visit my mum because she had been admitted into hospital to have a lump removed from under her arm.

I remember it was Valentine's Day when she told me they'd diagnosed her with cancer and had already spread to her lymph glands. It was a lot of information to take in. I must admit I hadn't been the best daughter, being 19 and all that comes with being a teenager. I realised it was time for me to 'step up to the mark'. I gave up my degree in London and came home to take care of my mum and 2 brothers, aged 9 and 17. My mum was very brave and decided she was going to do everything she could to fight this and she decided she would participate in one of the very first trials on Tamoxifen.

It was only two months later when we discovered the cancer had spread again. Life was getting very difficult. I remember thinking 'Why don't they operate again?' but instead they made her go on a very aggressive course of radiotherapy and chemotherapy. I realise now it was because the cancer had spread so much there was not much point in operating.

The radiotherapy was so aggressive it burnt her skin on the outside and on the inside of her throat. So much so, that she wasn't able to swallow food. She kinda liked the idea that she was losing weight so fast. It was so difficult for me to get her to drink her protein drinks.

You could literally see the weight falling off her. What an ironic turn around. My mum had spent her whole life feeding me and now it was my turn to try and get her to take these disgusting drinks. I know for my mum the thing she found most difficult to deal with was not the disease but the fact that she faced leaving her children behind with no one to care for them. All of my mother's family had already died and my father had only just gone off with another woman nearly half his age only a couple of months before my mum was diagnosed. So there was literally just me and my 2 brothers. That was far more painful to her than the disease.

Seeing how painful it was for my mum to leave her kids behind is what drives me to do whatever I can to avoid being in the same position. I have decided to have a bilateral skin sparing mastectomy. Sometimes, I think I must be mad to be taking this course of action but it is the only thing that can do to reduce my risk. I have 3 beautiful children, 6, 4 and 1 and I want to be around for them. It is my goal to be a grandma. Not one single person on my mum's side has made it to be a grandma. I am going to break that pattern. My mum died at 42 and my grandma died before I was born at 49 and my great grandma died in her 20s all of breast cancer.

I went to see a genetic counsellor to see if I had this gene. A major hospital in UK had done a study of my family and had produced a family tree of all the people affected by breast/ovarian cancer. The Genetics department sent the results to the genetics counsellor here, in Australia. The genetics counsellor said they had never seen a case like this and asked me if the family tree only recorded affected family members and were the non-affected members left out.

It was a very chilling moment when I responded that was all family. It was very daunting to realise that I was the oldest female alive in my family. Normally this gene would affect 50% of the people but every single female in my family has died of breast cancer. The average age at which they die is 41. Unfortunately, they were unable to do the genetic test as I have nobody alive with cancer to test my blood against. But after doing a Mathematics Degree it doesn't take much to figure out, based on my family statistics, that I have 100% chance of having this mutant gene. I resigned myself to the fact that I am a mutant!

In the last 12 months I have had 2 lumps, one in my breast and one in a lymph node. It feels like every time I find something out of the ordinary I assume the worst. The waiting for the test results and mammograms is almost unbearable. So I do not want to put myself through any more anguish.

Being a Pastor's wife I have questioned myself and my faith as to whether I should leave it to God to work this out. Whether my faith was strong enough that God would save me from this cancer. My mum was a Christian and believed in God with all her heart but she still died.

I have realised that God gives us the ability to help ourselves. In life, we have to take precautions. We wear a seat belt to keep us safe. We take medicine when we are ill. We remove an ingrown toenail if it is infected. I know it's not a toenail I am removing but it is something that will almost certainly save my life!

I have not told many people yet as I can imagine the headlines - 'Pastor's wife gets implants!'

If you or someone you know has a history of breast cancer in your family see your GP for further advice. You may find it helpful to read our section on cancer and genetics.

Updated: 14 Apr, 2010