Christine Garrett (29) from Lisbane, Comber, was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2011. When she discovered she had the BRCA2 gene she opted for a double mastectomy. Here, she tells her courageous story.
“I was working as a nursing auxiliary in the Belfast City Hospital Intensive Care Unit and had just finished a 12 hour shift when I felt a small lump in my right breast.
“A few days later I went to my GP. Due to my young age she hadn’t really considered cancer, but when I expressed concern about a family history (my mother had ovarian cancer and my gran had breast cancer), I was referred to the Ulster Hospital at Dundonald.
“I was absolutely amazed at the service I received at the breast clinic. I had a mammogram and a biopsy in the morning and was told I’d receive the results that same afternoon. In between times I called my mum, read a few magazines and tried to relax.
“Initially I was in the waiting room with lots of other women. One by one they disappeared. Looking back I should have realised something was amiss. I was the last one standing.
“A wonderful breast cancer nurse came over to tell me that the consultant was ready to give me my results. At that stage I was still oblivious. But I was only 27.
“He said: ‘I hate to tell you this but you have breast cancer.’ I just didn’t believe him. One minute I was shouting at him, the next I had crumbled. I just couldn’t take it in. I kept thinking about how I was going to tell my mum.
“I picked up the phone to call her. When she answered I just blurted out, ‘Mum, I have cancer’. I heard a cry and handed the phone to the nurse to explain. I just couldn’t do it.
“It was only in June when I went in for my lumpectomy that I think the gravity of it all finally hit home. I then went through six courses of chemotherapy and 15 courses of radiotherapy. I found the treatment tough going, tougher than I’d thought, but I had the help and support of my family and friends, and one friend in particular who had gone through exactly the same thing. Their support was immeasurable.
“Because of the family history of cancer I was offered the genetic testing and decided to have it done. It came back positive for BRCA2. I was a bit shocked but deep down I think I had suspected it.
“I spoke with my consultant and he discussed the option of a mastectomy and reconstruction. When I heard the statistics I knew I didn’t have a choice. I wanted a double mastectomy. My choice was to stay around for a long time. I had nieces and nephews I planned to see grow up.
“On 3rd June I had both of my breasts removed and temporary spacers inserted. I’m now waiting for my reconstruction due in September. I feel like a weight has been lifted off my shoulders. Now I know that cancer can’t come back to my breasts it’s the most amazing feeling for me. My reconstruction operation is minor in comparison.
“The whole process has taken it out of me. Some days I feel low and others I realise that I’m alive and that I beat it. I had a lot of help and support throughout my treatment and I now attend counselling at Cancer Focus NI
which is helping me enormously. My counsellor, Barbara, has helped get me out of my shell again. There’s still work to do but I’m slowly getting back to the old Christine.”