Echuca's Leah Alberni was forced to make a tough decision last year, choosing to have double mastectomy after discovering she had the breast cancer gene.By Ivy Wise
Last year, Echuca’s Leah Alberni had an 80 per cent risk of getting breast cancer.
Now, it is less than 1 per cent.
The 35-year-old mother of two had a preventative double mastectomy and reconstruction in September after discovering at the age of 18 that she had the breast cancer gene.
So the decision to have both breasts removed was never a matter of if, but when.
‘‘I always thought I would do it, but I wanted to have kids first,’’ she said. ‘‘It was a four-year process. To me, the alternative was far worse.
‘‘I’m lucky I had the option to find out.’’
Leah wanted to share the story of her procedure, the same that actress Angelina Jolie underwent earlier this year, for Daffodil Day today.
The gene also means Leah has a 40 per cent risk of being diagnosed with ovarian cancer, so she plans to have her ovaries removed in the next few years.
Leah’s chance of having the cancer gene was high.
Her mother, Trish Martin, survived breast cancer twice, her aunt died of the disease and her maternal grandmother had ovarian cancer.
Leah had to wait until she was 18 to have the blood test that detects the gene.
Testing positive, she became part of a study, through Melbourne’s Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre, which involved yearly mammograms and an MRI every two years.
‘‘My last MRI (in 2012), I was called back because something had changed,’’ she said.
Although the biopsy came back clear, Leah didn’t want to risk it and decided to have the mastectomy.
The 14-hour operation, at Melbourne’s St Vincents Hospital, was all covered by Medicare and involved removing all Leah’s breast tissue while using her own stomach tissue for a full breast reconstruction.
‘‘The first four days were awful,’’ she said.
‘‘Now, they look better than before and I got a tummy tuck out of it.’’
Leah has two daughters, aged eight and five, and said she was not planning to have any more children, so having her ovaries removed was next on the list.
However, the hairdresser will have to wait for her stomach to heal properly from the last operation.
‘‘Doctors recommend to have the operation between the ages of 35 and 40,’’ she said.
The major side effect of having ovaries removed is early menopause, which Leah is not looking forward to.
The bright side of the story is that she will drastically reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer.
‘‘I’m looking at it like a positive. It will be a relief not having it hanging over my head,’’ she said.
Leah said she worried about her daughters having the breast cancer gene, but at least they would have the option of finding out when they were 18.
‘‘Hopefully by that time, there will be better treatments or even a cure,’’ she said.
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