Defying the family cancer gene

MIKE MATHER
Last updated 05:00 25/02/2014
Amber Argaet
Chris Hillock/Fairfax NZ
EARLY WARNING: Amber Argaet found out she had the potentially deadly BRCA1 (breast cancer 1, early onset) gene just over a year ago.

Breast cancer battle scars

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The first time Amber Argaet heard of BRCA was while watching a documentary on the subject a few years ago.

Little did she know that she would soon find herself dealing with it herself.

Argaet has a strong family history of breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. Her sister recently finished treatment for breast cancer after being diagnosed when she was 29 years old.

She found out she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation early last year. Her father had died from prostate cancer and it was from his side of the family that she inherited the defective genes.

"It was a shock," Argaet said.

"I knew I had a 50 per cent chance of carrying the gene but it was still hard to hear the words . . .

"I remember thinking it must be a mistake, they must have mixed me up with someone else. I needed to see the test results myself before I really believed it.

"I have four young children and a husband to consider.

"The thought of not being around to watch my children grow up brought me to tears."

Argaet said prior to receiving her test results she went through all the potential scenarios in her head, but nothing had prepared her for the reality.

"It's completely different when you have to make these decisions for real and then follow through with it. I don't think anything can prepare you for that."

Her options were to choose between high surveillance with the hope that if she did develop cancer the doctors would catch it early; or to have prophylactic surgery to try and remove as much tissue as possible to reduce her cancer risk.

"I decided prophylactic surgery was the best option for me and after numerous tests, scans and specialist appointments, at 33 years old I underwent a bilateral salpingo-oopherectomy (ovary removal) and bilateral mastectomies."

The news that actress Angelina Jolie had had a double mastectomy because she also had the defective gene played no part in her own decision.

"I was already going through the process when I heard about what she had done."

Argaet said her support network of family, friends and healthcare professionals got her through the ordeal.

"I have been cared for by the most amazing specialist and healthcare professionals who have exceeded my expectations. I have the most amazingly supportive family and friends who have been and continue to be with me every step of the way.

"I have also been attending support meetings run by [support group] Gift of Knowledge, where I met others all at different stages of their own journeys.

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"I feel privileged to be part of such an amazing group of strong supportive women who really understand what it was like to live with BRCA.

"Unlike the women before me in my family, I will be around to see my children and perhaps even grandchildren grow up," she said.

- Waikato Times

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