"My story proves how important it is to have an understanding of your family history"

04 July 2018
Jess Martin2

Jess, 24, discovered she was BRCA2+ after her father was contacted by a relative who had tested positive. She describes the ups-and-downs of the past year, and why she now feels empowered by knowing her genetic status.

"My mother had breast cancer when I was a teenager and I remember vividly how she battled the disease with immense positivity and courage. Thankfully, we were lucky and after intense chemotherapy, radiotherapy and a mastectomy, Mum was given the all-clear. I was always very aware of breast cancer from a young age and met many women battling this awful disease, some surviving and some sadly not. However, one thing that always reassured me was that my mother’s cancer was not genetic and in 2017 I went ahead and had a breast enlargement. 

However, just three days after my surgery, I was recovering at home when my parents sat me down to break the news that my father had in fact tested positive for the BRCA2 mutation. The hardest part of my journey so far was watching my dad’s eyes fill with tears as he shared the guilt of potentially giving myself and my younger sister a 50% chance of inheriting the BRCA 2 mutation, putting us at a significantly increased lifetime risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

Never in a million years did I think a cancer risk would be inherited from my father. My father does not have cancer and he is thankfully very healthy and well. He was in fact contacted by a relative who was diagnosed with breast cancer and subsequently tested positive. I do not have a close relationship with this family member but my story just proves how important it is to have an understanding of your family history.

My first reactions? Perhaps irrational and definitely extreme. Being a nurse I already knew the options for me if I was tested positive and in the next five minutes I planned out my whole life, presuming I would test positive and terrified that one day, I would definitely get cancer.

After weeks of deliberation and hours upon hours of Google searches, I met with my GP who referred me to a genetic counsellor, where I made the decision to have the blood test. To my surprise, my GP had not heard of BRCA2. However, I persisted in ensuring that the correct referral was sent and quickly. I changed my mind every minute about whether to take the test. At 24-years-old my chances of getting cancer are still very low, but a 50/50 chance of being BRCA positive was enough to need to know my genetic status. I'm very lucky that I have an extremely supportive and close relationship with my parents, my fiancé and my friends. They gave me the confidence to know I could face any challenge that could be thrown my way. 

To this day I still haven’t read the result letter in full, other than the bold black print that states I carry the BRCA2 genetic mutation.

"A year on I now see my positive test result as a gift in disguise"

Jess Martin

I write this blog a year since my journey began. It has been testing at times and certainly emotional. At the time of my diagnosis I declined any further support and with my wedding ahead I tried to brush things under the carpet. However, in March I was invited to attend a conference for women and men in my area who have been affected by BRCA. After a month of deliberating, I reluctantly attended. As I walked into the room I felt an overwhelming sense of anxiety. Realising I was one of the youngest women there, my eyes filled with tears. Thankfully I had my best friend with me, or else I probably would’ve left straight away. However, an hour into the conference I began to relax as I listened intently to the amazing researchers, consultants and speakers stood in front of me, all there to support us. To support me

For the first time in what has been an extremely difficult year, I sat amongst nearly 100 others and realised that I am not alone. I 'd spent hours scouring the internet and searching for articles hoping to find somebody in the same position and finally, here I was, surrounded by the most inspiring and positive people. All of us have a different background and a different story but the one thing we have in common? We all carry a mutated BRCA gene.

And that was the beginning of a whole new perspective on my life. I could sit and cry and wallow in self-pity, but what will that achieve? I never feel sorry for myself, I have never doubted the result and I never ask ‘why me?’, because why the hell not me?! The problem with a genetic mutation is that you can’t change it. I can’t pay a surgeon to correct my genetic mutation like I did my confidence issue last April.

Instead, a year on, I now see my positive test result as a gift in disguise. After all, knowledge is power and how lucky am I to have the pre-warning that I am at an increased risk of getting cancer? I'm planning to undergo a preventative double mastectomy in the next few years and will then undergo surgical removal of my ovaries and fallopian tubes once my family is complete. This, of course, is an extremely difficult decision to make, but whenever I feel down I remind myself how lucky I am to be given the opportunity to potentially save my own life.

I have started a blog to document both the emotional and physical sides of my journey, which you can follow at www.livinglifewithbrca.blogspot.com. I hope that by sharing my story I can turn what could be a negative situation into something more positive. I hope I can help raise awareness and reach out to those in the same position as I was this time last year. I will always carry this genetic mutation and I have a 50% chance of passing it on to my children. But I have accepted that this is part of me. I’m still the same Jess just a much stronger version than I ever was before."

Our Hereditary Cancer Risk Tool assesses your risk of having inherited a genetic mutation that could increase your risk of developing certain cancers. It's suitable for both men and women.