"Looking back, I feel very differently compared to how I did this time last year"

Christina Pacitti

One of our BRCA Voices, Christina, gives us an update on her experiences nearly a year on from her preventative mastectomy, including some unexpected emotions and the need for support.

"Looking back, I feel very differently compared to how I did this time last year. When I wrote my last post for Ovarian Cancer Action, it was around 6 weeks post my bilateral risk-reducing mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. It was a difficult time. I was struggling with pain and discomfort, frustrated due to not feeling ‘normal’ again and more profoundly... guilty.

I felt guilty for being given the knowledge about the gene mutation, having the opportunity to reduce my risk when other women don’t have that prospect. I felt guilty for my children as there’s a 50% chance that I could have passed the faulty BRCA gene on to them, meaning that they may have to face these difficult decisions when they are older. I also felt guilty for not feeling relieved: I had just taken drastic steps to dramatically reduce my risk of breast cancer but yet, I still didn’t feel empowered.

Shortly after the post, I recognised that I needed support. I found it difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable and accept that it’s OK not to be OK. A friend put me in touch with my local Macmillan centre and the support I’ve received from them has been invaluable. It has given me a safe space to open up and begin to try and make sense of it all and I still see my Macmillan councillor weekly. I highly recommend that anyone going through a similar situation contact their local Macmillan and Maggie’s centres for support. 

I have also found that writing my blog has helped me to express how I’ve felt throughout my journey. It’s been a great tool for me to look back at what I’ve been through and realise that I have overcome things I never thought I could. The blog has had a great response with women contacting me from all over the world saying that they have found it helpful as they can relate to my experiences both physically and emotionally.

"I found it difficult to allow myself to be vulnerable and accept that it’s OK not to be OK."

Christina Pacitti

To date, I’ve had three breast operations. My initial op was lipomodelling — a process where fat is removed from your thighs and/or abdomen and grafted into your breasts, followed by my mastectomy last June and then revision surgery in January this year. I am due back to see my breast consultant in September to arrange what will hopefully be my last breast operation later this year.

Of course there is still the issue of the ovarian cancer risk associated with BRCA. I am blessed to already have two beautiful children and although my fiancé and I feel our family is complete, putting a time limit on how long you will remain fertile for raises a whole lot of questions. I met with my gynaecologist last year — a week before my mastectomy — to consider options, and will see him again later this month to discuss the plan of action. As I am 30, the thought of surgical menopause scares me. I already feel that my body has endured so much this past year and the thought of more anaesthetics, surgeries and recovery time worries me. Not to mention that I’m absolutely heartbroken about it all and have to remind myself why I am taking preventative measures.

Almost two years after receiving my genetic results, I’m proud to now be a ‘Voice’ for Ovarian Cancer Action and also a BRCA Umbrella co-host for Edinburgh and the Lothians. It’s amazing to meet with other women who are going through similar experiences, speaking with people who really can relate to your situation, helps the healing process greatly. I no longer feel like I’m resisting against the process and I’m trying to turn what I initially saw as a negative, into a positive part of my life. 

Finding out that I carry an altered copy of the BRCA gene had consumed my thoughts for months with days where I wished I never knew just so I could feel ‘normal’ again. I still feel the guilt and frustration some days, and I don’t think that’ll ever go away but one thing I do know is that somehow, I’ll find the strength to deal with it.

Worried about your genetic risk? Find more information in our BRCA hub.