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Skylar was only 12 when her mum was diagnosed with breast cancer, and the news had a huge impact on her life. Later on, she began to question her own risk of developing the disease.
When I was 12 years old, my life forever changed when I received the devastating news that my best friend - my mum - was diagnosed with breast cancer. It felt like my world had collapsed.
She needed chemotherapy, radiotherapy and, eventually, a double mastectomy. It was a long and tiring time, but she went through it all with strength, hope and a positive attitude. Throughout it all, she never gave up.
Although she couldn’t control the terrible thing that had happened to her, she could control how she responded to the situation. Cancer impacted her life goals, but it never stopped her drive and determination.
Watching her go through that showed me how to always carry a smile, and to look at the positives in life instead of fretting about the negatives. She really taught me how to make the best of every situation, and that nothing – no matter how big – should get in the way of your happiness.
After she had finished treatment, my mum used her frightening experience to help other cancer patients by becoming a mentor and counsellor.
You never really think about a disease ever affecting you or a loved one until it actually does. It came as a complete shock.
Feeling hopeless and confused about breast cancer, I wanted to make a difference. So, I began fundraising.
I rang doorbells, sent out hundreds of messages, made posters for my neighbourhood bake sales, made breast cancer-themed treats and had raffles at local gyms. I then participated in a sponsored race to raise money for research into a cure for breast cancer.
I will never forget what I saw looking into the crowd: brave women, families, and friends running this race to beat the odds. Pink, glittery signs pinned to the backs of t-shirts designating survivors. Pink boas fluttering in the sky, bright banners shimmering from a mile away, confetti flying through the air.
I thought of the initial feeling of grief I experienced when I heard about my mum’s diagnosis, and how it diminished as hope washed over me. I had been scared then, but now I felt mighty and determined.
It was one of the most rewarding moments of my life, and it helped me to realise I could play a part in changing someone’s life.
All told, I raised over $15,000 for the cause.
After my mum’s diagnosis, we found out she had the BRCA2 genetic mutation. And, as time went on, I wondered if I carried it, too.
Eventually, my desire for the truth overpowered my fears, and I told my parents I wanted to be tested for the altered gene. They were supportive of my decision, but worried about how the outcome would affect me, as a positive result could raise my risk of breast cancer to 85%.
However, the uncertainty seemed worse than not knowing. There was a 50-50 chance of me having it, and it was crucial for me to know so that I could begin early screening.
So, I got tested. And, after several weeks of waiting anxiously, my lab results were ready.
In an instant, everything changed. I felt like all the air suddenly escaped from my lungs. I was lost and confused. My heart sank. Devoid of emotion, I numbly shuffled to my bedroom, buried my head in my pillow and cried.
Finally, after a month of self-pity and grief, I shed my last tear and came to terms with my likely future. I soon began laughing at the irony that I would perhaps one day be the beneficiary of all the research efforts I’d fundraised so hard for.
Going through chemo, radiation, and a double mastectomy was a long and arduous journey, but having my daughter by my side every step of the way kept me smiling and hopeful. Life is tough, but remember it’s not what happens to you, it's how you choose to respond to it that makes all the difference.
Quote from Tracy, Skylar's mum
After first feeling overwhelmed at my future and afraid of my fate, I turned my positive test result into a catalyst for personal growth. I’ve learned not to take life for granted, to take chances and try new things without letting fear get in the way. Most importantly, I have learned to live in the moment.
I used this energy to become a designated community leader and fundraiser, making it my goal to educate as many people as possible. During this time, I hosted several ‘think pink’ gatherings, one of which was a craft project in which we painted rocks with inspirational sayings for patients undergoing chemotherapy.
Furthermore, as a fluent bilingual leader in the non-profit field, I made a positive impact in the community of both English and Spanish speakers by serving as a peer counsellor for teenagers struggling with their mother's diagnosis.
Most importantly, I discovered an entire world of people who faced obstacles like mine – and many who struggled with worse. I began to focus on others instead of myself, and it brought me great joy. Who would have known that testing positive for the altered BRCA2 gene could help me find my life purpose?
I’ve been passionate about breast cancer since I was 12 years old, and I will continue to be for the rest of my life. I will never stop fighting to put an end to breast cancer, and I hope to one day have been a part in finding a cure, as well as correcting genetic mutations like the BRCA2 gene that my mother and I both carry.
Most breast cancers are not inherited, but if you're worried about your family history, the first step is to talk to your GP. If you are considered high risk, you may be offered a genetic test to find out more.