Whilst juggling a divorce and taking care of her two children, Michelle discovered she had cancer. Now, she shares her story of how her diagnosis and family history led to the discovery of her genetic risk.
My journey first started in July 2001, when I found a lump in my left breast whilst having a shower. I knew straight away it was cancer even without it being confirmed. I was 34 years old, getting divorced with two boys who were eight and nine.
Why now? My life should just be starting!
I managed to get an appointment really quickly to see my GP, who then referred me to the hospital. It was confirmed that I had breast cancer and my whole world crumbled around me. I elected to have a left mastectomy, but I also needed chemotherapy and local radiotherapy. I remember coming away from the consultancy appointment saying, “I’m going to lose my hair!” My dad, bless him replied, “Michelle, it’s your life or your hair!” 20 years on and that is still with me.
During all of these hospital appointments, I was also getting divorced. I remember being in court one day, just after having chemo, I’d lost my hair so I was wearing a bandana and I felt so poorly. I know that battling the divorce changed my focus off the cancer onto that instead. I then commenced radiotherapy which left me with skin damage- my chest was very sore as if I had been severely sun burnt, and I struggled to wear a bra for quite a few weeks.
I was given the ‘all clear’ just before my 39th birthday which was a wonderful feeling – I cried so much with relief that this journey had come to an end.
"Little did I realise that in March 2019 my whole world would come crumbling around me again, and I would be battling for my life."Michelle
My grandad and my mum both had breast cancer, so I was offered genetic testing and found out that I had the faulty BRCA2 gene. At the time I had lost my home, and was living in a mobile caravan. I needed preventative surgery to remove my Fallopian tubes and ovaries. I knew something was wrong straight after my surgery, the nurse confirmed that I had peritoneal disease, and stage 3 ovarian cancer.
What?! I had only gone in for a preventative hysterectomy – how could I have cancer?
I also had a CT scan which found cancer in my right breast. That news was presented to me on my 53rd birthday last year. “Happy Birthday Michelle! Oh by the way you have breast cancer too!” It also meant that my two boys, well men, 28 and 29 needed to be checked out too as not only are they high risk for breast cancer but also prostate cancer too.
I developed significant side effects from the chemo, but eventually I completed all six cycles eventually in January 2020. My, that was certainly a rollercoaster and many a time I thought of stopping it all. The hours I must have cried by myself – it was tough.
My eldest, Michael, is a hairdresser, and after my first cycle of chemo my hair had started to thin so I asked him to cut my hair into a bob. It was the best feeling – I didn’t have to worry about my hair anymore, I could scratch my head and not fret over my hair coming out. The compliments I got were a lovely pick me up.
In November 2020, I had my mastectomy surgery. I am now seven weeks after this surgery and had the amazing news in December. Originally, my breast cancer was diagnosed at stage 3C, but following chemo and six cycles of PARPs it was down to a 1C – wow – such amazing results!
I cannot deny this is a tough journey, I certainly never volunteered for it, but it's happened, and I have to accept it. I have met some amazing, inspiring people along my journey, some who have become good friends and the people I rely on for support.
We can do this fellow warriors.
To learn more about the hereditary risk factors for ovarian cancer, click here.