The worry weighed heavily on Jennifer Murphy from the time she was in her 20s. A frightening question mark loomed large and dark. Would she or would she not get breast cancer like her mother and grandmother?
pictured right: Jennifer Murphy, her husband Patrick, and daughters Charlie and Zoe.
Jennifer’s mother was diagnosed 10 years ago at age 47 and underwent bilateral mastectomy and a hysterectomy. Genetic testing revealed she had the BRCA gene mutation that is linked with breast cancer, but the variant was of “unknown significance.” No one could say if it was harmless or a risk factor for cancer. Today, her mom is well and cancer free.
Jennifer’s paternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer at age 41 but lived into her 70s, when she died of causes unrelated to breast cancer.
In her 30s, Jennifer began having regular screening mammograms but, after weighing the pros and cons of genetic testing at her age, did not get tested. The niggling fear was constant and, over the years, she talked about a preventive double mastectomy with her husband, Patrick. After daughters Charlie 5, and Zoe, 2, were born, the conversation took on a new intensity and wrenching significance.
And then Jennifer found a lump.
“It was a complex cyst – not cancer – but I would have to be followed every six months. I had a decision to make.”
Jennifer, 38, will talk about that difficult decision at Breast Reconstruction (BRA) Awareness Day on Oct. 17 at St. Joseph’s Hospital, where women seeking information about breast reconstruction after a mastectomy can learn about their options directly from London plastic surgeons, hear from women who have undergone the surgery, and view real results firsthand in the women’s only ‘show and tell lounge.’ It’s the seventh year for BRA Day in London, and Jennifer is the first patient speaker to share her story about choosing preventive double mastectomy and breast reconstruction.
“The choice is so individual,” says Jennifer, an intensive care unit nurse at London Health Sciences Centre. “What’s important is that women know they have options when faced with breast cancer or the threat of breast cancer – and that they are not alone. There is no one answer. Each person faces a different journey, and whatever choices they make need to be right for them.”
Jennifer gives high praise to her family physician and the team at St. Joseph’s Breast Care Program, all of whom provided expert guidance, reassurance, compassion and care. On Dec. 9, 2017, she underwent surgery to have her breasts removed and immediate reconstruction with breast implants. The results, she says, “were great”, for which she credits the skill of the surgical team.
“I have wondered if I jumped the gun,” Jennifer says with candor. “My body is different, I feel different, I look different. But then I come back to ‘no’ because I am free from the worry that my family will watch me go through breast cancer. I was lucky to have a choice. It was the right decision for me. It may not be right for someone else. BRA Day is about helping women come to a decision that’s right for them. And if I can help, then sharing my story will be worth it.”
If you go: Breast Reconstruction Awareness Day, Oct. 17
Most women who undergo mastectomy are not told of their options and do not have reconstruction despite the emotional, physical and practical benefits the surgery is known to have. On Oct. 17 at St. Joseph’s Hospital, anyone seeking information about breast reconstruction after a mastectomy is invited to Breast Reconstruction Awareness (BRA) Day, an informative evening that allows women to:
• learn about reconstruction options directly from plastic surgeons
• hear from women who have undergone the surgery
• view real results first hand in the women’s only ‘show and tell lounge’
• discover the “Circle of Sharing”, a unique support group that helps women who have undergone breast reconstruction reclaim wholeness
Where: St. Joseph’s Hospital, Shuttleworth Auditorium (Zone D, Level 0) from 7 to 9:30 pm. Please enter through Cheapside Entrance 4.
Registration: BRA Day is free but registration is required. Online registration is available by visiting www.bra-day.com. Click on “Find an Event” and choose London.
What is breast reconstruction?
Breast reconstruction is surgery to recreate all or part of a breast that has been removed by mastectomy. A breast can be reconstructed with an implant, the woman’s own body tissue, or a combination of an implant and body tissue. Most women who are having or have had a mastectomy are candidates for breast reconstruction. Women who have had a lumpectomy may also have options for reconstructing partial breast defects. Find more information about breast reconstruction on the Canadian Cancer Society website.