Kaylee Denmead

Kaylee lost her mum to breast cancer when she was 15. 3 years later, Kaylee discovered she too was a BRCA1 carrier and at 24, she decided to have a preventative double mastectomy to reduce her risk of getting the cancer that took her mums life. 

‘Following Hollywood star Angelina Jolie's example, Kaylee decided to get tested for the BRCA1 gene, to find out whether she too carried the risk for breast cancer. When the test confirmed her genetics meant she could also one day develop the cancer that took her mother's life, Kaylee decided she should celebrate the potentially lifesaving discovery. Discovering the BRCA1 gene too wasn't an easy discovery to make for Kaylee, now 25. She was only eight when she watched her mum begin the  seven-year battle with breast cancer, she would ultimately lose.

Jodi died aged 47 in October 2009 after prolonging her life for as long as possible. Four years after her own mum passed away - Kaylee tested positive too. Through the years, Kaylee attended numerous appointments for high-risk patients where she saw many sick women, which reminded her of the pain of seeing her mum sick.

"My mum's first breast cancer diagnosis came when she was 40 years old," recalls Kaylee. "She found a lump which they treated with chemotherapy and radiation. When she went into remission, she asked to be tested for BRCA because she always said she had a feeling. My maternal grandfather had had colon cancer, so she believed that there could be a genetic component. This was around 2002, and BRCA testing wasn't common then. This is before Angelina Jolie wrote her piece in the New York Times, before it became something women knew about. My parents paid out of pocket for her test as insurance wouldn't cover it. It came back BRCA1 positive.

My mom immediately had a bilateral mastectomy and an oophorectomy. She wanted as much time as possible really, she wanted until she was old. Just under two years later, her breast cancer came back in five places in her body. Metastatic breast cancer is terminal in almost all cases, which I think a lot of people don't realise.From there, it was about buying time... She was always trying new medications and new drugs to prolong her life, and she did prolong it for a while." When their mum died, Kaylee was 15, and her brother, John, was 17. Kaylee said: "I knew I had a 50 per cent chance of carrying the gene, which really sunk in after my mum died. I just didn't think about it, I was so consumed by grief and pretending to exist after my mum died”.

"When Angelina Jolie's piece came out, I felt like I'd been gut punched and knew I needed to get tested.My family were worried about me finding out so young in case it made me rush through life, but I hated living with the unknown." She and her granddad both got their bloods done together, and both came back positive for the BRCA gene. Kaylee's grandfather sadly passed away that December after his cancer came back. "I went to high-risk appointments at the local breast centre and I hated them. The waiting rooms were filled with sick women. It began to feel like I was waiting to get sick." She decided that because she had the care and support for her family, it would be best if she got the operation young. "I couldn't live with myself if my mum left me with all of this medical information and I didn't do anything with it and then I got cancer."

The week before her mastectomy last November, Kaylee had a 'Bye Bye Boobies Bash' to celebrate her brave decision. Party favours included cupcakes that looks like breasts and a banner reading 'you're the t*ts'.  Kaylee thought she would feel an instant relief, but it took her a few weeks to accept her body after surgery. Now, Kaylee sees her scars as an important reminder of hers and her mother's journey.

"The bye bye boobies bash was a blast. All my friends came, and they were the positive energy that I needed. My three best guy friends showed up with paper boobs on strings - they drew all different types of boobs and they handed them out to all the attendees. It's one of the most incredible moments of my life that my friends came and chose to celebrate this life-changing decision.They were like that throughout my entire journey. I had felt so alone, and I felt like no one really knew what I was going through, but I was not alone.”

"I just wanted to make the experience feel more positive. I was choosing to save my life at 24, that's not a small decision, and owning your body, especially as a woman, should be celebrated." Her surgeon later told Kaylee all her breast tissue was cancer-free, and she had successfully reduced her risk to under two per cent.
"It was a very surreal moment. I'll likely never get breast cancer - the disease that killed my mum. That was the first time I felt I changed my future and saved my life."

She said she "loves" her scars: "They make me feel like I saved my life and they remind me of what my mum went through. I wish genetic testing was more common as I want more women and men to know what I was privileged enough to know. Think about how many less people would have breast cancer if they knew they were BRCA from a young age."

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