Kate Plarre was first diagnosed with cancer at 26.
She recovered and barely gave it a second thought.
But after learning her family history, a diligent GP sent her to the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre, a joint service between Peter Mac, The Royal Melbourne Hospital and The Royal Women’s Hospital.
What she eventually uncovered was more cancer and a genetic mutation that explained a family history littered with cancer diagnoses.
This is Kate’s story in her own words.
When I was 26 I was diagnosed with thyroid cancer. Being young and carefree, this was just a blip in the road and I felt lucky that I’d got my medical bad luck out of the way early.
A couple of years later I changed GP’s and when she was taking my family history she paused and said “that’s quite a lot of cancer in your family Kate”.
At this time my mum, aunt, grandmother and great grandmother had all had breast cancer in their early 40s and 50s and it was present in both sides of my family.
The doctor referred me to the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre.
The thought of going somewhere to find out if I was at risk of getting cancer again was both nerve wracking and empowering.
I wanted to face facts head on and get rid of that niggling “what if?” feeling.
At the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre they delved into my family tree.
I was secretly hoping they’d say “Don’t worry Kate, you’re fine. Off you go.” Instead, they assessed my family as potentially being in the high-risk category.
They then outlined a plan. Funded genetic testing was not available to me at the time, so the plan was to wait until I was 35 and then begin screening.
I got on with life and had two gorgeous daughters and forgot about the plan. Thankfully my GP remembered and when I was 35 she referred me to the same breast surgeon who had treated my mum.
Straight up I had a baseline MRI. Then, at my six-month follow up scan something was detected.
A tumour had grown, deep within my breast, near my chest wall. Undetectable by sight or touch. At 36, with two young daughters this news didn’t seem quite real.
My surgeon suspected I had a BRCA2 mutation. So, she outlined a range of treatment options and referred me back to the Parkville Familial Cancer Centre.
One of the silver linings of having breast cancer meant I was now eligible for funded genetic testing.
I wanted the results to help guide my surgery decision: if I didn’t have a genetic mutation, then I’d just have a lumpectomy. But, if I did, then I wanted a double mastectomy. The difference was great, but I wanted to reduce the risk of ever going through this again with a new breast cancer.
On the day of my results I had a feeling they had discovered something, because there were 3 people in the room to deliver the news.
And as suspected, they had found a mutation in the BRCA2 gene.
Thank goodness for my genetic counsellor. She was amazing. She stayed with me after the doctors left and made sure I fully understood everything I’d been told.
She outlined the next steps and invited my immediate family in to get tested as well.
Her calm manner and kindness helped my family process something that, at first, seemed too difficult to comprehend.
Knowing that I had (and still have) a team of professionals available to help is so relieving.
I don’t need to worry about researching the latest medical breakthroughs, because they are doing it. And they are all collaborating. They guided me through the process, they relieved my anxiety and helped me to have a laugh along the way.
Sometimes I still play the “what if?” game.
“What if I’d never met my GP and she hadn’t referred me to the Familial Cancer Centre? What if they hadn’t recommended I start screening early? What if I’d waited an extra year?”
All I can say is, I truly believe if I hadn’t gone to the Familial Cancer Centre there’s a good chance my breast cancer would have gone undetected, until it was potentially too late.
They empowered me and my family to take action. Being aware means we can detect and treat future cancers quickly.
It is a relief having a plan, knowing what to do, who to see, and knowing we are in safe hands. I am forever grateful to them.
Kate has decided to undertake a double mastectomy to reduce her breast cancer risk.