A woman who found out she has the BRCA1 gene after undergoing a lumpectomy to treat her breast cancer said it was “like grieving twice”.
Lara McDonnell, 40, now has to make the difficult decision about having her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, but she has no children and wants to do so in the future.
Women with the BRCA1 gene have an increased risk of developing breast, ovarian and pancreatic cancer. Because it’s a genetic mutation, those who have it in their families are at much greater risk. However, having had breast cancer on neither side of her family, Ms McDonell was shocked to discover she had the gene.
The Carlow woman was diagnosed with triple-negative breast cancer in December 2019, a cancer considered aggressive because it grows faster.
She only found out she had the BRCA1 gene 13 months later.
The lack of this information at this time drastically changed her treatment decision. Klara had opted for a lumpectomy rather than a double mastectomy as, having no history of breast cancer in her family, she did not expect to have the gene.
“When I got it [gene testing] Results, it was a massive shock,” she said.
“It was like the sadness of having breast cancer again. It was such a shock and I was so angry at my delay because I would have just opted for a mastectomy.”
After Ms McDonnell learned she had the BRCA1 gene, she decided to have the double mastectomy to reduce the chance of her breast cancer coming back.
After initially finding out she had breast cancer, the actress delayed her treatment so she could freeze her eggs, which she was very grateful after learning about the gene.
“I’m so thankful I froze my eggs because I’m almost 40 and not single anymore,” she said.
However, Ms McDonnell, who created a TikTok account under her own name to document her cancer journey, said there is a lot of pressure to start a new relationship and she hasn’t made a decision about when she will have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.
“It puts a lot of pressure on a relationship, like you just want to date someone for a while and have kids but have this genetic thing,” she said.
“It’s a lot of stress and a lot of decisions because it’s recommended that you remove your ovaries and fallopian tubes between 35 and 40 and I’m 40 now.
“So I have to make all these decisions, I’m going to have preventive screening for ovarian cancer at the moment, but stage one cancer goes undetected, so a lot of people are choosing to take this preventive measure [of having them removed].”
Ms McDonnell said if she decides to have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed, she could still have IVF as she has her eggs frozen. Although the process is expensive, science has advanced to the point where their BRCA1 gene can be eliminated to ensure their children don’t get it.
“If I decide to have children naturally, there’s a 50 percent chance they’ll have this genetic mutation, and they don’t You’re always going to get breast or ovarian cancer, but it’s very likely,” she said.
“But I don’t know what to do. I’ve been told I could wait until 45 to have children naturally, but it’s just a risk.”
She began documenting her journey on both TikTok and YouTube because she said there needs to be more awareness about breast cancer, especially among younger women.
“There needs to be more awareness. What’s really heartbreaking is when I go to the hospital I see women coming in for their first appointments or getting results and some of them are only in their 20s and our screenings in our country start at 50,” he said she.
“I’ve decided to document my journey online, I’m an actor and presenter and have always dabbled in and out of social media, but at first it was like sadness, I didn’t know if I should keep it a secret because I’m self-employed and need work, but I also wanted to raise awareness.
“Also, my mom said that I should announce things on social media because she strongly believes in the power of prayer, and she said that people can pray for you to share with friends and acquaintances.”
Ms McDonnell is a firm believer in listening to your gut and encourages women to have anything they are concerned about checked out by a professional.
“I didn’t think I was at high risk [when I was diagnosed]”I was 37, vegan, didn’t drink and exercise every day,” she explained.
“But I was in the shower and washing and I had never done a self-test before, but in my left breast it wasn’t a lump that I found, it was more like swollen and I immediately thought ‘I have cancer’.
“I’m a very spiritual person and I’m very intuitive and I knew I had cancer. I know that sounds crazy, but I knew it straight away.”
https://www.independent.ie/irish-news/health/discovering-i-had-the-brca1-gene-was-like-the-grief-of-having-breast-cancer-all-over-again-41495729.html “Discovering I have the BRCA1 gene was like the sadness of having breast cancer again”