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Tuesday, 2 August 2016

Battling BRCA

* Disclaimer - Not a poker or golf related post. *

It's been so long since my last post I nearly don't know where to start. Whilst this blog is called 'The Life of Me!', it always focused on my poker exploits then became somewhere to log my golfing progress & aspirations. That was until my life took a change in direction during the Spring of 2012.

Ironically enough, I was on the golf course when it happened. Striding down the 10th fairway with 2 of my lovely golfing friends, I hadn't a care in the world. It was a glorious May afternoon, sunny & warm with a slight breeze, perfect golfing conditions & my score wasn't too bad either. As I momentarily stood stationary I could just about hear my phone vibrating in my golf bag. When I realised it was my doctors surgery phoning, I excused myself & answered the call. Never in a million years was I expecting this phone call, I mean, I knew it was coming eventually, but I was 10-15 years off that point, right?

My dad died in Dec 2006 at the age of 46, he was one of the healthiest people I knew. Sure he liked a drink at the weekend but he never smoked & made sure he had his 5 a day. Cancer doesn't always play by those rules though. He died without knowing he carried the BRCA2 mutation. I'm glad he never knew as no doubt the guilt of passing on defective genetics to your kids can't be easy to come to terms with. I'm not the only one of his five kids to inherit the defective gene, but as I'm the eldest, the odds were that it would impact on my life first.

I don't want to get into all the stats & possibilities that you focus on when you're told you're at an increased risk of breast & ovarian cancer, but when you've just turned 30, you figure you're a bit off that point yet. At this stage I'm already getting annual breast MRIs as I'm now in the age group that is statistically at enough risk of contracting breast cancer but I wasn't supposed to be getting screened for ovarian cancer for another 5 years. However, with my dad dying so young, my GP decided to arrange for me to have annual blood tests that little bit early to help reassure my mum that there was something to be done to help keep on top of things & he was going to do it. This was my third annual CA125 test & the first time the results were not considered normal. It didn't mean there was anything wrong per se, but when the surgery receptionist makes you an emergency appointment to come in to see the doctor you have to prepare yourself for the possibility that things could be far from ok.

That first appointment wasn't too bad, mostly information gathering & explaining what the next step was. That next step was an internal ultrasound at the local hospital. An internal ultrasound is possibly one of the most invasive exams your average female will have to endure. Looking back I feel pretty stupid about focusing on the trauma of the scan itself in my head rather than keeping the bigger picture in sight. It soon hits home when you're told your left ovary is twice the size of your right ovary & the next step is a MRI but you'll almost definitely require surgery. As predicted that surgery day arrived, 4 years ago to this day to be exact. Everything happened so quickly, or rather, efficiently. Less than 3 months from that blood test & here I as lying on an operating table.

There were complications with the surgery but nothing my consultant couldn't take care of it seems. As expected, there was indeed a tumour, but they got it so early that the surgery was all that was required. In some respects I feel like I cheated it somewhat, to have an ovarian tumour detected so early that I didn't need any treatment & despite the haematoma resulting in a 3 month recovery period from the operation, once I eventually healed, I was essentially cured. Don't get me wrong, it wasn't all rosy. The recovery was gruelling at times, but you get on with things & not needing treatment meant I was free from any sickness or horrible side-effects.

It was November that year before I was permitted to return to work & whilst it wasn't the time of year for it anyway, golf seemed to be off the agenda for a while yet. Over the few weeks that followed I was advised to decide on whether or not we wanted a family & to consider preventative surgery in the forthcoming years to help remove the risk as much as possible. There was no mistaking the seriousness of the tone from my gynaecologist, it wasn't a case of if it came back, but when.

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