Ballarat ovarian cancer survivor’s call to invest in your genes

SURVIVOR: Christine Christie says knowledge saved her life and urges other Ballarat women to invest in their family's genetic history. Picture: Kate Healy
SURVIVOR: Christine Christie says knowledge saved her life and urges other Ballarat women to invest in their family's genetic history. Picture: Kate Healy

GENETIC testing did not give Christine Christie the answers she had hoped but it saved her life.

The Ballarat ovarian cancer survivor is calling for everyone to consider investing in their family history.

Ms Christie said knowledledge was power and used World Ovarian Cancer Day on Monday as her platform to help increase awareness in her community.

There was a long family history of breast and ovarian cancer on Ms Christie's paternal side of the family and she tried early in the 2000s to test for the genetic BRCA fault. Only, the technology was unavailable in Australia – all her relatives who had cancer were long dead.

Ms Christie sought testing again in 2014 under Peter MacCallum Cancer Centre and with better technology found she had inherited the mutation from her father.

She chose to have a preventative hysterectomy and ovaries removed, aged 48, only to learn eight weeks later she had stage one ovarian cancer – a tumor in her Fallopian tube.

“It was very confronting to know you carry the gene and the statistics of developing breast or ovarian cancer are so much higher,” Ms Christie said. “Knowing you carry a genetic mutation has been very challenging. My daughters were a big part of my motivation. It was not the answers we wanted but it is the knowledge I have been given and the knowledge that unfortunately my relatives did not have...My daughter says I am the luckiest unlucky person –  lucky I found out and lucky the cancer did not happen earlier.”

My daughter says I am the luckiest unlucky person

Ovarian cancer survivor Christine Christie

Ms Christie underwent chemotherapy at St John of God Ballarat and, two years later, is fit and well with no evidence of the disease.

She could hardly bear to think what could have happened if she had not been proactive.

The risk of developing ovarian cancer is increased from one per cent to 59 per cent for carriers of BRCA carriers. Ms Christie did not want to live with such a risk, which was why she had opted for preventative surgery.

Ms Christie said one of her daughters has tested negative for carrying the gene while her other daughter was looking into getting tested.

Ovarian cancer can be hard to diagnose because symptoms are ones many women experience: abdominal or pelvic pain; increased abdominal size or bloating; needing to urinate often or urgently; and, feeling full after eating a small amount.

“There are women out there who would not know they carry the gene,” Ms Christie said. “I’d like other women who have a history of these cancers to find out.”

For more information, visit your general practitioner or ovariancancer.net.au

READ MORE: Ballarat widow appeals for cancer gene awareness and expert says Angelina Jolie-effect to extend to men

The Courier