August 13, 2015 0 comments

Carol – “Breast cancer has caused a great deal of heartache in my life.”

To lose a family member to breast cancer is devastating. But sadly for Carol Denehy she not only lost her mother but also her half-sister to the disease.

“It’s caused me a great deal of heartache in my life, both from my family and from the friends in my life who’ve had breast cancer,” Carol said.

Carol (far right) with her step siblings.
Carol (far right) with her step siblings.

Carol is a part of ABCR’s Community of Care – a special group of people who regularly support breast cancer research.

Cancer, particularly breast cancer, has deeply affected Carol’s life. While her mother and sister have passed away from breast cancer, her half-brother has also been previously diagnosed with the disease, her husband passed away in 2007 from liver cancer and her mother-in-law has been diagnosed with ovarian cancer.

Carol developed very large, cystic breasts as a teenager, the nature of which made it difficult to perform self-examinations for breast cancer. When she immigrated to Australia in 1991, she had surgery to reduce their size and remove some of the tissue. She hopes that will save her from the same fate as her mother and sister.

“I was told I was high-risk and I was worried because I couldn’t easily do a self-examination. I was terrified that something was going to happen to me,” she said.

“I have a lot of friends who’ve had breast cancer and are survivors. I know you can survive and have a good life afterwards but the fact that I’ve had these two deaths in my family overwhelms me.”

Diagnosed in early 1981, Carol’s mother had a mastectomy and underwent radiation that May. In July she was told that she had a “clean bill of health”. A month later, after she developed a persistent cough, she went back to hospital only to be told that the cancer had spread from her breast to her lungs. She died only three weeks later.

Her sister was diagnosed in 2008 when she was 72. Like their mother, she had a mastectomy and radiation treatment. Unfortunately, it had already spread to her lymph nodes, so she then had chemotherapy and radiotherapy for that as well. Sadly, she then developed acute myeloid lymphoma, a potential side effect of the treatment and lost her life to cancer shortly after.

“My sister was a force of nature. But the effort in fighting first the cancer and then the leukaemia wore her down and she had no more strength to go on.” Carol said.

Carol's mother who passed away from breast cancer.
Carol’s mother who passed away from breast cancer.

Both Carol’s mother and sister were 74 when they passed away.

At 66, Carol is more than concerned about her chances.

“I’m now 66 and 74 doesn’t feel that far away. I hope that trend doesn’t continue…”

Carol’s mother-in-law also has the BRCA gene.

“A lot of people in her family have come back positive with that gene so that’s another reason to hope that nobody else I know is diagnosed., Please – nobody else get breast cancer.”

When she was diagnosed, Carol’s half-sister (on her mother’s side) was tested for the BRCA gene but the results were negative. However Carol’s half-brother (on her father’s side) has also had breast cancer.

“Was he just unlucky? Or is there something on my father’s side as well as my mothers and I’ve gotten both of them – I just don’t know.”

Unfortunately for Carol, having a family history of breast cancer puts you at a higher risk for the disease.

“I think cancer is one of the things that the light is brightest on and I think that with the right types of research they are going to find cures for various kinds of cancer, maybe within my lifetime.”

“I support Australian Breast Cancer research because I really hope that the researchers find a cure so that other people don’t have to go through what I have”.


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