Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
In support of Breast Cancer Awareness month, running from 1 October to 31 October annually, Newcastillian News spoke to 35 old mother of two, Candice Bond. A Newcastle, KwaZulu-Natal woman who has joined the elite, upper echelons of brave women, who had their breasts removed (double Mastectomy) in the fight against breast cancer.
This Newcastillian is now preparing for a hysterectomy, to ensure she can lead a healthy life and watch her nine-year-old and six-year-old daughters reach adulthood.
Candice was found to be carrying the PALB2 gene mutation. According to Dr Mariya Rozenblit, Instructor of Medicine (Medical Oncology) at Yale Cancer Center, PALB2 is a gene that encodes a BRCA2-interacting protein.
The interaction between BRCAS2 and PALB2 is necessary for DNA damage repair which normally occurs in our cells. When this protein doesn’t function normally, DNA damage is not repaired, and cells become damaged, leading to cancer.
Candice explained she discovered that she had the PALB2 gene mutation, after her aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer, and her father was diagnosed with prostate cancer. “I have a family history of cancer, both my grandmothers had breast cancer, and both my grandfathers had cancer as well. When my aunt, my father’s sister, was diagnosed with breast cancer, she tested for gene mutation.”
It was then discovered that Candice’s aunt was carrying the PALB2 gene. A study by the New England Journal of Medicine showed women who carry a mutation in the PALB2 gene were 35% more likely to develop breast cancer by the age of 70, than women who did not have the mutation.
When her aunt tested positive for the mutation in 2019, Candice explained that her aunt’s oncologist said it was imperative that all her female relatives be tested for the mutation. “I had to go for genetic councilling which was a long process and I tested postive, with a 50% chance that I would be impacted by cancer,” explained Candice.
With these odds, she was told that it was best to take the necessary preventative measures. This involved not only removing her breasts, but her nipples too, and undergoing a hysterectomy.
“The gene attacks the breasts, the ovaries and the uterues. I then began the process to undergo the surgeries, but COVID-19 in 2020 happened and everything came to a standstill. In 2021, I resumed the process.”
With the double mastectomy booked for November 2021, Candice opted to undergo a “deep flap” which would see the surgeons use tissue from her body to create new breasts.
However, just before she was booked into hospital, the pandemic figures shot up again and hospitals refused to allow visitors onto the premises. This meant Candice would have to go into theatre totally alone.
On top of this, just six hours into the 10-hour surgery, Candice explained that her doctors had to wake her up after the surgery did not work out as planned. They would not be able to use the tissue, but rather would now have to use breast implants.
With this brave soul’s double mastectomy now complete, she went home for a six-week recovery in December 2021, before returning to hospital in March 2022 for her final implant procedure.
Now six months after the procedures, Candice is on the mend and declares that the decision for the procedures was for the best.
“People might tell me that it was a drastic choice, especially as I did not have cancer, and there was a chance that I would not get it. But there was a chance I would develop breast cancer, as after the surgery my breast tissue was sent in for testing and there were signs of calcification, which means I would have gotten breast cancer.”
Moreover, Candice explained that she took the drastic step to have a double mastectomy for her children’s and family’s sake. “I did not want them to see me get sick, lose my hair and all that. When I went for my first surgery I was at peace, although my second procedure was emotional.”
However, prior to her first surgery, she admitted to having some initial doubts before finding calm. “The hardest part about the first surgery was leaving my family, and thinking if I was going to wake up. I thought about leaving them letters, but I made peace with everything and remained positive.”
Now, as she prepares herself for her hysterectomy, Candice explained that her journey has been an educational one and she is now determined to make other women aware of the PALB2 gene mutation.
“Women need to know that if they have a family history of cancer, they can go for gene councilling, and they should go for either a mammogram or a breast sonar. Women also need to check themselves,” affirmed Candice.
If any woman did find that they were at risk and would have to undergo a mastectomy, Candice assured this would not make them less of a woman. “I lost both my breasts and nipples, and I am still feminine, if not more. I also feel stronger.”
Encouraging other women to be proactive in the fight against breast cancer, focusing on the future and her third big operation, Candice admits that she still worries about her daughters who will not have to be tested for the same mutation when they were older.
Despite this, Candice refuses to allow any negativity to bear down on her, remaining focused on her family and life.
With this brave person’s story in mind, Newcastillian News encourages women to get checked. Knowledge is power and once armed with the results, decisions can be made.
Are you like Candice and have gone through this? Share your experience in the comment section below, it could help another woman make the correct choice.