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After her mum passed away from breast cancer at a young age, Tasha later became aware that she had a hereditary link [a gene or trait passed down from your parents] to breast cancer. We spoke to Tasha about how she felt after discovering this news, and what steps she took to find out more.
Did you know anything about breast cancer before you found out you had a link?
My mum passed away from breast cancer when I was 7. I always knew it was cancer, but it wasn’t until my teens that I found out it was breast cancer in particular. I knew nothing about breast cancer really – only what I had learnt from taking part in fundraisers.
When did you become aware that you might have a hereditary link?
I was aware how hereditary breast cancer can be. When I spoke to my aunt around the age of 25, she told me a bit more about it, and that a few family members from my mum’s side had been tested for BRCA-1 [a test to see if the BRCA-1 gene is properly defending the body from cancer].
After finding out there was a strong chance I had a hereditary link, it actually wasn’t really something I thought much about. However, I knew it was probably worth knowing more – regardless of whether or not I had the gene – so I spoke to my doctor.
What happened when you saw your doctor?
I went to the doctor to find out more information and was referred to a genetic counselor. She was so friendly and insightful about what happens with the test, letting me know it was my decision whether to take it or not and what help was available if the results showed that I was positive [carrying the gene that could increase the chance of cancer] I decided then and there to go ahead with the testing and the results showed that I was positive. Fortunately, I wasn’t alone my cousin supported me throughout the process when I received the results, but still I just accepted it and carried on with my life. I had presumed that I would be positive and thought I would just have to get on with it.
At that age, I still thought ‘this isn’t going to affect the way I live.’
It was only a few years later that I really took the time to think about it and decided to make some lifestyle changes. My genetic counselor also explained the possibility of passing the gene onto children in the future and told me about the treatment that was available to reduce the possibility of the gene being transferred, which I would never have known about before and nor would have considered as children were not crossing my mind at that point in my life.
A couple of years ago I had a scare where I felt a lump in my left breast. I called my GP straight away and got an appointment the same day. Because they knew about my genetic link, they really pushed for me to be seen quickly. I went on my own to the hospital and didn’t tell anyone as I didn’t want them to worry. I was lucky that the lump turned out to be benign. Of course, this was an enormous relief but the whole experience was nevertheless extremely tough and a wake up call for me. I was completely fine until I got to the hospital where I was surrounded by others going through treatment. Seeing that firsthand really shook me.
Did this process impact you in any other ways?
When I got to the age that my mum was when she passed away, knowing I had the gene, I found it a very scary, lonely, and difficult time and my outlook changed a lot. Hitting that age, everything became more real.
I thought, ‘this could happen to me.’ I could make all the changes in the world but it could still happen to me.
I never spoke about it and bottled up how I was feeling, just carrying the weight. Looking back now at the support groups I had been recommended, I feel like I could have made use of them. I felt quite isolated and thought that people would not understand what I was going through, so I just didn’t talk about it. As much as friends and family care and are very supportive, I felt they may not quite understand.
Being more aware of the gene and to try and minimise my risk of getting breast cancer, I tried to do the little bits I could. I really believe that the little tweaks make a huge difference. In the past year and a half I’ve looked into changing my lifestyle, reducing products that use lots of chemicals, my diet, and making sure I am getting lots of fresh food and cooking more.
Have you since been able to talk to your family more about your experience?
Because we hadn’t spoken about it much over the years, there was a bit of discomfort from my side to open up about my experience, but over the last year I’ve been more open to talking. I have been talking to other family members who have been really receptive and have gone away to do their own research. It’s nice that we can talk about it together, even if we are at different stages of processing the news.
My partner has been by my side from the moment he knew. When I told him about the gene, he came along with me to my genetic counselor. He was incredibly receptive and wanted to know more. As the person going through it, you don’t really think about how it affects your partner. There’s a lot of information they have to take in and changes they make to support you.
It’s great to talk about it with my wider family too and encourage them to check. It’s so good to be aware that it is something that could affect you regardless of your age or background.
Do you have any advice for your younger self, or for someone in a similar situation?
I think the best thing you can do is to talk about your feelings with someone. Either your friends or family, or sometimes it is easier to open up to someone who doesn’t know you. Talking about it will help to avoid this heaviness.
As a British Indian, I feel it is still a bit of a taboo in my culture – people don’t talk about breast cancer enough. There are still a lot of boundaries where people don’t want to know or perhaps they feel uncomfortable to talk about it, so there is little awareness. I think it’s so important to talk and help others be more informed of the disease.
Tasha is supporting CoppaFeel! with her business Styles of Soki.
If you are concerned about a hereditary link, always speak to your doctor. You can find out more about the BRCA gene mutation below:
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