I lost my sister, Krista, to breast cancer last December. If there’s any ray of hope, it’s this: losing my sister saved my own life.
Krista was a bright and shining light in this world and I miss her very much. When she died, I saw just how devastated her husband and three young daughters were. How her loss left such a huge gaping hole in all of our hearts. Seeing my nieces’ pain and anguish gave me the push I needed to make one of the most important decisions I’ve ever made: the decision to stop my cancer before it could even begin.
Let me explain. When Krista was first diagnosed with breast cancer several years ago, I decided to get tested for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic mutations. Like Krista, I tested positive. But I thought it was something I could deal with at a later time. When Krista lost her battle with this terrible disease, I realized I needed to take some kind of action; I just didn’t know where to begin.
I was put in touch with Kelly Metcalfe, who conducts research on the prevention and treatment of hereditary breast cancer at Women’s College Hospital. She became the driving force that helped me make the decision to move forward.
“Kelly asked me one very simple question that put everything into perspective. She asked, “What is the most important thing to you?” I cried and answered, “My family: my children, my husband, my parents, my siblings, and my nieces and nephews.””
Even though I already knew what I needed to do to survive, coming from someone else, someone who didn’t have a vested interest in my life or health – it sealed the deal for me. At that point I knew that I would do everything in my power to prevent what happened to my sister, from happening to me.
I wouldn’t let my husband bury his wife. I wouldn’t let my children grow up without their mother. I wouldn’t let my parents suffer the loss of another child. I wouldn’t leave my surviving sister sisterless. I wouldn’t leave my nieces and nephews down another auntie.
It was at that moment that I decided to take my health into my own hands. One simple question that no one had asked me before changed the course of my future.
After meeting with the surgical team at WCH, I made the decision to have a preventative double mastectomy. It was a difficult procedure, with several weeks of discomfort and recovery. But it was nothing compared to watching my sister fight and ultimately lose her battle with breast cancer and now watching her children grow up without her.
Today, as I write this, I can look at my four-year-old son James and almost two-year-old daughter Abigail and know with almost full certainty that I am safe from breast cancer.
I have to tell you that my experience at WCH was nothing short of amazing.
From the moment I decided to investigate my options, everyone at WCH was extraordinarily helpful. They provided me with all the information I could possibly need and took the time to really explain things to me. I felt like I was being taken care of every step of the way.
Dr. Semple, my plastic surgeon, is just the warmest, nicest man. Dr. Cil, my breast surgeon, was so supportive and caring. Their staff is incredible too. The day of my surgery, one of the residents came to walk me into the operating room. I was so overwhelmed with everything that I just started crying!
That’s when Dr. Semple actually came over and held my hand to comfort me. At one point I had Dr. Cil, several nurses and other staff rubbing my forehead, massaging my legs, and telling me everything was going to be okay. I felt so safe and looked after, which was exactly what I needed.
Throughout my journey, my niece Brianna – Krista’s oldest daughter – took a keen interest in WCH and their work to save the lives of women just like her mom. At just ten years old, Brianna decided to host a “Spa Day” fundraiser in support of WCH. Can you believe that amazing girl – who is still struggling with the loss of her mom – raised over $2,500 in just one day? She gives me so much hope for the future.
In fact, it’s my sincere hope that by the time Brianna and her sisters, and my own daughter, get to an age where they can even begin thinking about genetic testing, this type of breast cancer will be a thing of the past. That a preventative mastectomy won’t even be necessary.
I believe it is possible – when we all join together and support Women’s College Hospital.
Donate today to advance world-leading hereditary breast and ovarian cancer research and clinical care at Women’s College Hospital. Your gift will help save the lives of countless other women like Kirby.