How to Be Tested For a BRCA Gene Mutation

Cancer Awareness Ribbons in Multiple Colours

Transcript of Podcast Episode 3

Welcome to the BRCA gene mutation and cancer awareness podcast. I am Christina Henry of Midlifestylist.com. I am a Registered Nurse with a BRCA2 gene mutation. My podcast will raise awareness of BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations and their link to an increased cancer risk. BRCA gene mutations affect males and females equally, but there isn’t a lot of awareness in the community of the cancers that male carriers are at risk of. My podcast aims to change that. I will also discuss other topics of interest such as genetic counseling and testing, cancer screening and prophylactic surgery. If you would like to know more about BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations, this podcast is for you. Thanks for joining me.

Welcome to episode 3:  How to be tested for BRCA gene mutation

In the last episode I discussed how I came to be aware of the BRCA2 gene mutation in my family, and how I came to be tested.  I am now going to explain how to have genetic testing if you suspect that you have a genetic mutation in your family.

The first step is to look at your family’s health history.  In particular, ask yourself the following questions:

  • Have any of your blood relatives had cancer?
  • What types of cancer were they?
  • How old were your relatives when they developed cancer?

Are You at High Risk of a BRCA Gene Mutation?

A person is considered high risk of having a BRCA mutation if they have a family history of:

  • Breast cancer diagnosed before the age of 50;
  • Male breast cancer at any age;
  • Multiple relatives on the same side of the family with breast cancer, particularly first degree relatives (mother, sister, daughter);
  • Multiple breast cancers in the same woman, meaning breast cancer developing in both breasts over time or at the same time;
  • Both breast and ovarian cancer in the same woman;
  • A history of ovarian cancer in the woman’s family, especially if a first degree relative;
  • Ashkenazi Jewish heritage (they have a 2.5% chance of inheriting a BRCA mutation compared to 0.25% in the general population).

I have written an article on Midlifestylist.com called Know Your Family and Personal Health History.  I included a free health history form with a family tree so that you can get an idea of how to document your family’s health history.  It is important to look at both the males and the females as a BRCA gene mutation can be passed down through either line.

Genetic Testing at a Family Cancer Clinic

Genetic testing is free in Australia if a genetic mutation has been found in your family.  You will need your relative’s name and where they were tested.  You may have been given a copy of your relative’s results, or a letter from their genetic counsellor saying what genetic mutation they have.

Free genetic testing may be available if there is a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.  The genetic counsellor has to estimate that you have at least a 10% – 15% chance of having a faulty BRCA 1 or 2 gene in the family.  A relative that has had breast or ovarian cancer would need to be willing to have genetic testing.

Publicly funded testing is only available through a Family Cancer Clinic in Australia, not via a GP.  Family Cancer Clinics are based throughout Australia and are covered by Medicare.  Your GP will need to refer you to the clinic for Genetic Counselling first.

Referral for genetic testing at the Family Cancer Clinic will depend on whether the Genetic Counsellor assesses you and feels that there is a strong suspicion of a genetic mutation based on your family history. If you elect to pay privately it costs approximately $2000, which is not covered by Medicare or private insurance.

Private Genetic Counselling

Genetic Counsellors are also available privately in some cities.  My Genetic Counsellor is a medical consultant that I saw privately.  It did cost me to see him, but my actual test was free.  He saw my sons privately as well, and tested them free of charge.  I elected to see a private Genetic Counsellor because I had seen him previously and knew him professionally (I am a nurse).

Genetic testing is done via a blood test.  My sons and I had two separate blood tests 15 minutes apart.  The results were available after a few weeks.

Why You Should Avoid Do-It-Yourself Genetic Tests

I have read about do-it-yourself genetic tests available by mail order.  I strongly recommend that you don’t go down this route for a couple of different reasons.  First they may give you a false positive or a false negative.  It’s more likely to be a false positive which could lead to an anxious reaction for nothing.  

Secondly, having the discussion with the genetic counsellor is extremely important.  They are able to explain what your risks are, based on your family history. It is not the same for everyone.  Some families have a high number of prostate cancer cases, but a low number of breast cancer cases.  That is the case in my family.  

The implications of a diagnosis of a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation need to be carefully considered before you have testing.  This can only be explained by a medical professional trained in this field.  Please don’t take any shortcuts – I strongly advise you to get a referral to a Genetic Counsellor for these reasons.

Further Information

If you would like to read further about this, I have a link on Midlifestylist to Pink Hope.  They have an Assess Your Risk Tool on their website that can help you to work out whether you need to see a genetic counsellor or not.

I will be talking about what to do if you test positive for a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation in my next episode.  For further information about this and cancer awareness, go to my website Midlifestylist.com and search BRCA.  You can also read about my personal journey with BRCA2 and prophylactic surgery on the website.

Thank you for listening.  Please subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss an episode.  You can contact me via Midlifestylist.com 

Outro:

Do you want to learn more about BRCA gene mutations and cancer awareness? Find me at Midlifestylist.com where you can read about this and living a healthy lifestyle. Please subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss an episode. If there is a topic you would like me to talk about you can contact me via Midlifestylist.com. Thank you for listening.

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Being Diagnosed With a BRCA2 Gene Mutation – My Story

Multiple coloured cancer awareness ribbons

Transcript of Podcast Episode 2

Welcome to the BRCA gene mutation and cancer awareness podcast.  I am Christina Henry of Midlifestylist.com.  I am a Registered Nurse with a BRCA2 gene mutation.  My podcast will raise awareness of BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations and their link to an increased cancer risk.  BRCA gene mutations affect males and females equally, but there isn’t a lot of awareness in the community of the cancers that male carriers are at risk of.  My podcast aims to change that.  I will also discuss other topics of interest such as genetic counseling and testing, cancer screening and prophylactic surgery.  If you would like to know more about BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations, this podcast is for you.  Thanks for joining me.

Being diagnosed with a BRCA2 Gene Mutation – My Story

Many of you have found this podcast through a search for BRCA.  You may already follow my blog Midlifestylist.com.  I have written quite a lot about my BRCA journey.  But I haven’t told my story of how I was diagnosed.

I first heard about BRCA over 10 years ago.  Being a nurse, I was aware of families where breast cancer affected multiple generations.  I worked in a surgical ward where breast, ovarian and prostate cancer patients were cared for.

My Cousin Has a BRCA2 Gene Mutation

One of my patients happened to be my first cousin.  We are from a very large family – I have about 52 first cousins, many of whom are much older than me.  This cousin is almost a whole generation older – closer to my parents’ age than mine.  I didn’t know her very well because she grew up in Australia, while I grew up in New Zealand.

This cousin had had a very extensive surgery prophylactically.  She told me about the BRCA gene mutation – she has BRCA2.  Because both her parents had had BRCA2 cancers it was unclear which side of the family the BRCA2 gene mutation came from.  My father’s sister is her mother.  Both her parents were deceased.  Her mother died from ovarian cancer, and her father had had male breast cancer.

My cousin and I had the same breast surgeon.  I had seen him because of some breast lumps that were benign.  He recommended that I see a genetic counselor.  At the time my only direct family that had had cancer was my mother who passed away from metastatic brain cancer, unknown primary.

My First Visit to the Genetic Counselor

After looking at my family history, the genetic counselor advised me that there looked to be no evidence of BRCA2 in my branch of the family tree.  The test for BRCA at that time was very expensive.  I was a single mother of two teenage boys and did not have the means to pay for testing, or for prophylactic surgery for that matter.  I decided to continue regular monitoring which meant yearly mammograms and breast ultrasounds.

Over the next few years more cancer cropped up in my family – two siblings and my son had melanomas, and dad had prostate and pancreatic cancer.  My breasts were high risk anyway because of dense breast tissue and the lumps.  I was always fearful that they were going to diagnose me with breast cancer.

My Second Visit to the Genetic Counselor

Early in 2020 I decided to go back to the genetic counselor because I could never really get it out of my mind.  After revisiting my family tree he said that there was a high probability of me having a BRCA2 gene mutation.  The test was relatively straightforward because they only had to look at the same genetic mutation as my cousin.  It was now covered by Medicare so there was no cost to me.

I was at work when the genetic counselor phoned me with the results.  It was not a surprise to me that I had the genetic mutation.  I think I was in shock because I did not react at all.  He said that my sons would need to be tested as well.

A BRCA2 Positive Result

I was driving home and it hit me – “Oh My God I have given my sons a death sentence”.  Tears started streaming down my face and it was a struggle to drive the rest of the way home.  How am I going to tell my boys?  I had already discussed what I would do with my husband.  Because my risks of breast and ovarian cancer were so high, I knew I would have prophylactic surgery.  I had already booked the appointment with the gynae-oncologist.

I had to tell my sons in person and as soon as possible.  It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do.  Both of them took it really well and were definite in their desire to have the test as well.  We all expected my older son to have the BRCA2 gene mutation as well because he had had a melanoma.

My Third Visit to the Genetic Counselor

We went to the genetic counselor as a family.  My sons had their blood tests straight away.  A few weeks later they each received a letter in the mail and to our surprise, neither of them tested positive.  My older son undoubtedly has a gene for melanoma, but we already have skin checks six monthly so there is no reason to look for the gene responsible.

It is such a huge relief that my sons haven’t inherited the BRCA2 gene mutation from me.  They have had to watch me go through multiple surgeries, their grandfather died of prostate and pancreatic cancer, and now my brother has prostate cancer as well.  It is one glimmer of joy in this journey with BRCA2.

Genetic Counseling and Testing

I feel very grateful that my cousin told me about BRCA2 10 years ago.  I could never relax knowing that there was a chance of me having it as well.  I am really lucky that she happened to have the same breast doctor and genetic counselor as I do.  It made it much easier to get testing done.  Because the BRCA2 gene passed down through the male line in my branch of the family there is not the large incidence of breast or ovarian cancer that would alert the doctors. 

It was only by deciding to go back to the genetic counselor that the genetic mutation was discovered.  Because there have been a lot of advances in research, it is worth being retested if you had a test done some years ago.  Some people who were tested negative back then have now been found to have a genetic mutation.  Talk to your doctor if you are concerned.

In my next episode I will be discussing genetic counseling and testing.  For further information, go to my website Midlifestylist.com and search BRCA.  I will be discussing these topics in greater detail. You can read about my personal journey with BRCA2 and prophylactic surgery on the website.

Thank you for listening.  Please subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss an episode.  You can contact me via Midlifestylist.com 

Outro

Do you want to learn more about BRCA gene mutations and cancer awareness?  Find me at Midlifestylist.com where you can read about this and living a healthy lifestyle.  Please subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss an episode.  If there is a topic you would like me to talk about you can contact me via Midlifestylist.com.  Thank you for listening.  

Shared on Weekend Coffee Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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What Is a BRCA Gene Mutation and How Does it Increase Cancer Risk?

Multiple coloured cancer awareness ribbons

Transcript of Podcast Episode 1

Welcome to the BRCA gene mutation and cancer awareness podcast.  I am Christina Henry of Midlifestylist.com.  I am a Registered Nurse with a BRCA2 gene mutation.  My podcast will raise awareness of BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations and their link to an increased cancer risk.  BRCA gene mutations affect males and females equally, but there isn’t a lot of awareness in the community of the cancers that male carriers are at risk of.  My podcast aims to change that.  I will also discuss other topics of interest such as genetic counselling and testing, cancer screening and prophylactic surgery.  If you would like to know more about BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations, this podcast is for you.  Thanks for joining me.

Episode 1

This episode is an Introduction to the Midlifestylist BRCA gene mutation and cancer awareness podcast. 

The Topic of this episode is What is the BRCA gene mutation and how does it increase cancer risk?

Welcome to the first episode of my podcast.  I am passionate about raising awareness of the BRCA gene mutation and cancer risk.  I have been a Registered Nurse for 35 years and have cared for patients with cancer throughout my career.

I was diagnosed with the BRCA2 gene mutation in February 2020.  My personal journey has featured in many of my blog posts in my website Midlifestylist.com.  I have found very few podcasts about BRCA and decided to make my own.  This podcast will not only be about my journey, but also will provide information about BRCA gene mutations.

In this episode I will explain what a BRCA gene mutation is, and the implications for carriers.  I will talk about cancer risk, and how a BRCA gene mutation increases the risk of several types of cancer.

Firstly, What is a BRCA gene?

BRCA is an abbreviation for BReast CAncer gene.  The BRCA gene mutation was discovered in about 1994, and through research, the knowledge about how it increases cancer risk has expanded greatly.

BRCA 1 and 2 are tumour suppressor genes – they repair our DNA.  When we have a BRCA gene mutation, this ability to repair DNA is faulty.  Everyone has BRCA1 and 2 genes.  They play a big role in preventing breast and other cancers.  They help repair damage to DNA that can lead to uncontrolled growth of tumours.

BRCA1 and 2 gene mutations are rare.  Only 0.25% of people carry them, or about 1 in 400 people.  They can be passed down from parent to child.  If I have a BRCA 1 or 2 gene mutation my children have a 50% chance of inheriting it.  Men and women are affected equally.  It is important to note that a gene mutation does not guarantee that you will get cancer.  Other factors such as lifestyle and environment play a part as well.

What type of cancers have an increased risk in BRCA1 and 2 gene mutation carriers?

The lifetime risk of breast cancer in the general community is around 1 in 7 or 12-13% for women, and rare in men – about 1 in 675.  Having a BRCA1 gene mutation increases your risk to 60-80% in women and 1-5% in men.  A BRCA2 gene mutation increases women’s breast cancer risk to 40-84% and men’s to 5-10%.  

BRCA 1 and 2 gene mutations increase your risk of developing breast cancer, and at an earlier age.  The cancer is more likely to recur, and be the most aggressive kind. People with BRCA1 gene mutations are more likely to develop triple negative breast cancer which does not respond to hormone therapy or certain drugs. Treatment will be different than for other people because of this.  Chemotherapy is more effective at treating it than other types of cancer.

Breast cancer patients with BRCA1 or 2 mutations are more likely to develop a second cancer either in the same or opposite breast.  Removing both breasts would usually be recommended.

Other Cancer Risks

There is also an increased risk of developing other cancers such as ovarian, primary peritoneal, pancreatic, prostate and melanoma.  BRCA is thought of as a female cancer gene mutation, mainly increasing the risk of breast and ovarian cancer but it can also increase men’s risk of prostate cancer and male breast cancer.  And in both sexes the risk for pancreatic cancer and melanoma increases.

The lifetime risk of ovarian cancer in the general community is about 1 in 75.  Having a mutation in the BRCA1 gene increases the risk to about 20-45%, while a BRCA2 mutation increases your risk to about 11-27%.  

These statistics are estimates only and vary depending on which source they come from.  My personal risk is 20-40% chance of getting ovarian cancer and 60-80% chance of getting breast cancer.  Because my dad had pancreatic cancer my risk is increased, and because melanoma has affected 3 close family members including my son, I am at high risk of that as well.

People with a BRCA1 gene mutation have a 2-3% chance of getting pancreatic cancer.  Those with a BRCA2 gene mutation have a 2-7% chance.  People with a BRCA2 gene mutation also have an increased risk of prostate cancer and melanoma.  Prostate cancer is particularly alarming at a 15-25% risk.  Because many people aren’t aware of the increased risk of these other cancers they may not have the necessary screening.  Men are also at a disadvantage because most people do not know that a BRCA1 or 2 mutation affects them as well.

The Risk to Male Carriers

In some families the gene mutation is passed through the male line so it may not be identified as quickly.  When a large number of female relatives have breast or ovarian cancer it raises questions as to whether there is a hereditary link.  Because of Angelina Jolie having BRCA1 and undergoing prophylactic surgery, there is often the belief that BRCA gene mutation only causes breast and ovarian cancers.

Men with the mutation can be left out in the cold.  The colours for BRCA are pink and teal which are feminine colours.  More awareness needs to be made of mens’ risk because their cancers are often diagnosed at a later stage.

In my family prostate cancer has been passed down through three generations that I know of.  I inherited the BRCA2 gene mutation from my father who had prostate and pancreatic cancer.  It also affected my grandfather, and my brother is currently undergoing treatment for stage 3 prostate cancer.

Melanoma also affects my family – brother, sister and son have all had melanoma.  These lesser known cancers need to have more of a spotlight on them and that is what I hope to do with my blog and this podcast.

There are other gene mutations that can cause cancer, such as PALB2, CHEK2 and others.  Knowing your family history is important because awareness can lead to early detection and treatment of cancer.

For further information, go to Midlifestylist.com and search BRCA.  In future podcast episodes I will be discussing these topics in greater detail. You can read about my personal journey with BRCA2 and prophylactic surgery on the website.

Outro

Do you want to learn more about BRCA gene mutations and cancer awareness?  Find me at Midlifestylist.com where you can read about this and living a healthy lifestyle.  Please subscribe to the podcast so that you don’t miss an episode.  If there is a topic you would like me to talk about you can contact me via Midlifestylist.com.  Thank you for listening.  

If you are interested in reading more on this topic, visit the BRCA gene mutation and cancer awareness resource page.

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share Linkup on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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The end of the journey for a much-loved family member

sunset and clouds with a flock of birds flying

I am back after a break from blogging over the last few weeks.  My much loved mother-in-law passed away after a battle with lung cancer.  I took a break to spend time with my family during her last few weeks and until after her Celebration of Life.

I have written about my incredibly strong mother-in-law before.  Gwen was given 18 months when she was diagnosed with lung cancer. She far outlived any of the doctors’ predictions and lasted 3 ½ years.  Most of that time she was living independently at home with her 90 year old husband, driving, and still continuing to enjoy social outings to bingo and lunch with her friends.

From Easter onwards we noticed a decline in her condition.  She lost her energy, became very short of breath on mild exertion, and started to get more pain.  We tried hard to persuade her to take her medication to help with her symptoms but she was reluctant to take too much of it.  Her appetite had been poor since she lost her sense of taste so she was losing quite a lot of weight as well.

She had reached many milestones over the last few months – her own 86th birthday in December, Christmas, my father-in-law’s 90th and their 65th wedding anniversary in March.  There was only one last milestone to reach – a family reunion with her siblings and their families on the first weekend in May.

A Decline in Condition Leads to a Trip to the Hospital

On the 24th of April she woke in a lot of pain and could barely move due to the breathlessness.  We called an ambulance and she was admitted to hospital.  Scans showed that her cancer had progressed and she had a pulmonary embolism (blood clot in her lung).  She was now to have oxygen permanently.  During the whole course of her cancer she had not wanted treatment and was adamant about that.  We all supported her in that decision because she was very clear about her wishes.

At the beginning of her hospital stay we thought she may be able to return home so we organised home oxygen, a wheelchair, shower chair and wheely walker.  Over the next few days it became more apparent that she would be too unwell to leave the hospital.  Her family’s reunion came to her!  Quite a few much loved family members visited her in hospital.

Joy in the Palliative Care Ward

It’s not often that a palliative care ward has much joy but Gwen’s room did.  There was laughter and tears, as we all tried to make her last few days as positive as we could.  Her room radiated with love – our love for her and her love for all of us.  Even though we were well prepared, we still felt like we didn’t have enough time when she passed away.

She deteriorated so quickly on her last day we barely had time to make it to the hospital.  Most of us were there to hold her hand while she peacefully took her last breaths.  We were all heartbroken because we didn’t feel ready for her to be taken from us.  

A Celebration of Life

Gwen had been very clear about what she wanted. There was to be no morbid funeral.  Instead, she wanted to be cremated privately and a celebration of life was to be held afterwards.  She had chosen songs and told us all how she wanted to be remembered.  This made it so easy to plan her final celebration of life and I highly recommend that everyone do it.  I have now lost both parents, a sister and my mother-in-law and because Gwen had outlined everything she wanted it made it so much easier than the other deaths to plan for her funeral.

The whole family were involved in Gwen’s Celebration of Life.  It was held at my brother- and sister-in-law’s home.  My brother-in-law gave a lovely eulogy then we had a video with photos of Gwen through the years, and each of us had recorded a short piece saying our memories of Gwen. My niece created a beautiful tribute video to showcase Gwen’s life.  

Gwen and her mother on her wedding day
Gwen and her mother on her wedding day

We had a few of the things that Gwen loved on display – her bingo trophy, her favourite drinks Baileys and Scotch, and many family photos with all of her loved ones.  The video was a very moving tribute to our much loved matriarch.  There wasn’t a dry eye in the place, especially from her loving husband and family.

Grieving the Loss of Someone Special

Once the funeral was over we all felt a sense of relief.  We still grieve every day because we miss her so much.  It didn’t really sink in for me until Mothers’ Day.  Our usual family gathering was very subdued and quiet without her.  She always prepared the food and without her there it just seemed strange.

We have all rallied around my father-in-law and make sure we visit and give him the odd meal.  Luckily he can cook and he had been helping Gwen with household chores while her health declined.  He had a bad fall last year and ended up having a long stay in hospital so we suggested a personal alarm for him.  He already has services like housekeeping and lawn mowing set up for him.

Supporting Each Other Through Grief

The one positive of having 11 months off work was that I was able to spend much more time with my in-laws.  Seeing everyone come together at this very sad time and emerge from such a sad event is a testament to how strong my husband’s family is.  Comparing it to my own family it is obvious to see that some families grow stronger at times like this, and others fall apart like mine.  Any cracks that were there before can deepen into chasms if there is dysfunction in a family.

Communication and empathy are the key.  We had deep discussions as a family during this period.  Being respectful of each other, and showing kindness and compassion can help.  Everyone experiences grief differently and just being aware of that can prevent misunderstandings. 

Continuing Family Traditions

We aim to continue having family traditions like our Sunday gatherings.  Even though it’s not the same without her, those get-togethers will be an important way of supporting each other as time goes on.  My own mother passed away thirty years ago so I know that losing your mum is arguably the hardest death to get over.  Having experienced the loss of three close members of my family has given me the ability to help others through the experience.  Each loss is very different from the next but hopefully I can be the kind of support for others in the family that I know I needed while I was grieving.  It’s not a time for isolation – grieving is easier with a shoulder to cry on and a kind ear to listen.  It helps me as well.  Often a hug and a cry is what we all need and the shared experience can uplift us when we are having a bad day.

With time the deep sorrow does ease.  Some things will still trigger emotions, and anniversaries of important dates will still be hard to get through.  She will always be in our hearts, nothing will ever change that.  Her legacy is her family and our strong bond with each other. May Gwen Rest in Peace.

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Introducing My New Resource Page and Podcast

A cell phone, diary and cup of coffee

Introducing My New Resource Page and Podcast for BRCA Gene Mutation and Cancer Awareness 

This week I launched my new resource page and podcast for BRCA Gene Mutation and Cancer Awareness.   BRCA 1 and 2 genes mutations increase the risk of several types of cancer in their carriers.  Because I have a BRCA 2 gene mutation I have an interest in this subject.

The resource page contains information about BRCA gene mutations and the cancers we are most at risk of: breast, ovarian, pancreatic, prostate and melanoma.   It covers my own personal journey since being diagnosed in February 2020.  

There are links to good sources of information including websites, books, documentaries and support groups.

My next project will be a podcast about BRCA gene mutations.  I am working on this currently and created a trailer which you can listen to here.  

The resource page and podcast are not only of interest to BRCA gene mutation carriers.  There is also information on regular health checks everyone should do, and being aware of your own risk of cancer and other diseases.

I would love you to take a look and tell me what you think.

https://midlifestylist.com/brca-gene-mutation-and-cancer-awareness/

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Reaching a Goal and Setting New Goals

3 hooks with colourful tags hanging

I Reached My Goal of Returning to Work

Some of you have already seen my latest update on social media so it will come as no surprise that I finally reached my goal. A goal that seemed impossible to reach a few months ago. I started back at work this week after nearly 11 months of sick leave.

I thought I would be nervous and anxious because I suffer from anxiety, but I was calm and relaxed. Too relaxed perhaps because I was nearly late on my first day! I had forgotten what the traffic was like at that time of day. My employer is supporting me during this transition period. I have started back at two shifts per week, non consecutive days and am building up to my usual 7 shifts per fortnight.

A Gradual Return to My Job

My first day was primarily a training day to do my yearly mandatory competencies on the computer. I felt a bit brain dead by the end of the day. I’m so glad I continued to use my brain during my sick leave, to write this blog and complete a course. It has helped me to keep the grey matter from being neglected!

My second day I was looking after patients with one of my colleagues as a buddy alongside me. Having her there to ask questions was so helpful. We use computers for all of our documentation and I had always found the computer difficult to use. I prefer the old school way of nursing because I feel that the computers take you away from the patients. But they are here to stay. Most of my questions related to the computer – the nursing came easily (once a nurse always a nurse!). I was happy that I didn’t feel as rusty as I expected.

It felt so good to look after patients again. I really missed this role while I was off work. It’s great to feel like a productive member of society again. Catching up with my colleagues was also lovely. There have been 3 pregnancies amongst the staff while I’ve been away. I enjoyed being welcomed back to the team.

While many of my colleagues are aware of the reason for my prolonged absence, very few know how hard I had to work to be fit enough for my job. I will never take my job for granted again. I used to think it would be nice to not have to work, but when I was in that position the only thing I could think of was returning to work. Nursing is such a rewarding career and it’s all I know. I couldn’t think of doing anything else.

Returning to work after long term sick leave as a nurse.  Image:  the author Christina Henry in scrubs on her first day back at work in nearly 11 months

Staying Fit and Strong in the Future

My goal is to keep up the exercise program that I have been doing. I used to have so much pain, especially in my lower back. The Exercise Physiologist has helped me to build up my strength so that I am using the correct muscles for lifting and performing tasks. I don’t want to lose that strength by sliding into bad habits again. I have never felt healthier and my back has never felt so strong.

Some of my daily routines will be different to before my sick leave. I used to cook a meal for my family no matter which shift I was on. We have become empty nesters in the past few months so I no longer need to do this. Freezing the excess has become a new habit and it will come in handy to have meals for my work days.

Many of my regular readers have encouraged me as I struggled with my journey to wellness. Thank you to everyone who has written such supportive comments. I feel overwhelmed sometimes by the kindness given to me. Every one of those comments meant a lot to me and helped me, especially when my spirits were low.

My New Project

For the last few weeks I have started working on a new project. I am creating a resource page for BRCA genetic mutations and cancer awareness. It is something that I feel drawn to because I have learned so much through my own journey. I am writing the script for a podcast on the same subject. This is a side project to my current blog, and will be attached to Midlifestylist.com. You may see the odd blog post on this subject in the future.

Lack of time will always be a factor. I wish I had more time to do everything that I want to do! But my blog has kept me motivated and busy for the entire time I was off work so I intend to keep going with it. Writing has always been my passion and it has given me purpose.

I will try to continue my weekly blog posts but as life returns to normal I may not have time to post a blog every week. I will try to continue sharing to my favourite Linkups but may have to reduce it to fortnightly in the future. Returning to work was my goal and after finally reaching it, my new goal is to stay fit and healthy so that has to remain my priority.

If you would like to read more of my story, you may enjoy these:

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An Easter Celebration With My Family

A white bowl of vegan choc-nut balls on a wooden table.

This post includes a recipe for Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

Easter is a special occasion in my family.  It is a celebration.  This year I will spend Good Friday with my in-laws and Easter Sunday with my sons.  Even though I don’t go to church any more, it is hard to break away from family traditions.  My children appreciate the effort I make to create a joyous atmosphere.

Easter Traditions – Good Friday  

I grew up in a household where Roman Catholic traditions were honoured.  Therefore, we fasted during Lent and did not eat meat on Fridays.  We went to church nearly every day during Lent. Good Friday was a solemn occasion of prayer and fasting to reflect that Jesus died for our sins on the cross.

Traditionally Good Friday is the one day of the year that all the shops are closed in Australia. Many Australians keep to the tradition of eating fish on Good Friday, even when they are not Catholic.  My in-laws have their main Easter celebration on Good Friday. They don’t exactly fast though – there will be prawns and salmon on the menu! 

Easter Sunday Celebration

Easter Sunday was the main day for celebration in my family.  This was to reflect Jesus rising from the dead.  My parents would stop at the corner shop on the way to church and buy us one Easter egg each.  These days the shops are full of every kind of chocolate Easter egg and people spend a fortune on them.  It has become more commercialised like Christmas.

I have always enjoyed creating a special Easter for my family. I love cooking their favourite food, and hiding mini easter eggs for them to find.  My husband and I are empty nesters so these family gatherings are very special to us.

Making Vegan Easter Food

My son’s girlfriend is vegan and one of my sons is vegetarian.  I have been searching for vegan recipes so that I can make some easter treats for them.  I like to be inclusive and try to make everything vegan so that everyone can eat it.  It gets a bit tricky at times.  

There are some dishes that can’t be adjusted to make vegan versions, like pavlova.  But I have found some chocolate recipes that I can make or adapt, including the recipe below.  We will have  roast chicken, and I’ll make a roast cauliflower for them. I’ll bake vegan bread and have almond milk, vegan margarine and vegan snacks on hand.

A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench.  Easy healthy recipe to have at your Easter Celebration
An easy healthy recipe for vegan choc-nut balls. May be adapted if you are not vegan.
A white bowl containing vegan choc-nut balls on a grey bench

Vegan Choc-Nut Balls

These vegan choc-nut balls are so delicious the whole family will enjoy them. They contain lots of protein so have them after work-outs.
Prep Time 10 mins
Refrigeration time 10 mins
Total Time 20 mins
Course Snack
Cuisine Healthy, Vegan, Vegetarian
Servings 40 balls
Calories 66 kcal

Ingredients
  

  • 1 1/2 cup Rolled Oats
  • 2 tbsp cocoa powder
  • 1/2 cup chocolate protein powder
  • 1 cup vegan nut butter
  • 1/2 cup maple syrup
  • 1/4 teaspoon vanilla essence
  • 45 grams vegan chocolate chips Chop up small bar of vegan chocolate

Instructions
 

  • Stir together the oats, cocoa powder and protein powder in a large bowl.  Stir in the nut butter, maple syrup, and vanilla.  Stir until combined.  A food processor may be used. Add the chocolate chips and stir through.
  • Line a flat container with kitchen greaseproof papers.  Use a small cookie scoop to form balls.  Roll in between hands.  
  • Refrigerate for at least 10 minutes.  May be frozen.

Notes

If you are making a non-vegan recipe honey may be substituted for maple syrup.
Keyword Healthy, Snack, Vegan, Vegetarian

Covid-19 continues to disrupt plans

The one concern this year is that a sudden lockdown could be on the cards which would prevent us from being together.  My son lives in Brisbane, where there has been an outbreak of Covid-19 cases.  My other son was going to go on a road trip to Sydney and Melbourne but the borders have closed again.  

Once again travel arrangements are up in the air and the local tourist industry is suffering.  It will be so good to see an end to this pandemic as the continual disruptions to normal life are getting beyond a joke. Meanwhile we wait to see if further restrictions will affect our Easter celebration. I hope not.

How do you celebrate Easter? Do any of your family have dietary needs that affect what you serve at special occasions? If you enjoyed this post, you may like to read:

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Achieving Goals By Being Self Motivated

Pink and Blue Clouds with caption: Achieving goals by being self motivated

Is Self Motivation Intrinsic or Learned?

Is self motivation a characteristic that we are born with or is it one that develops with maturity? I believe it is partly a characteristic we are born with, but it can be developed. Being self motivated helps you to reach your goals. It is part of being resilient and not giving up when the going gets tough.

I have always been self motivated.   Even when my upbringing did not support that.  I wasn’t particularly intelligent like my brother who could get straight As without too much effort.  My success in my education came from hard work and self motivation. My parents did not support me when I wanted to go to university.  Because I’m female they said it would be a waste of time because I would get married and wouldn’t use it. I always had a desire to earn a degree so I achieved it on my own, while I was working and looking after my young children. 

No-one needs to push me to do something,  my drive comes from inside of me.  I have never understood someone who doesn’t exercise unless they have someone else to exercise with. I have always had this characteristic, it is an intrinsic trait I was born with. Can someone who isn’t self motivated by nature develop that trait?  I believe they can.

Quote:  "Being self motivated helps you to reach your goals.  It is part of being resilient and not giving up when the going gets tough" Christina Henry, Midlifestylist.com
Being Self Motivated quote

My tips for becoming self motivated are:

Set deadlines for yourself. 

This works well if you tend to procrastinate.   For example my course officially finishes in May but I wanted to complete it before I go back to work in April so I worked on it for a minimum of an hour a day to reach my deadline. 

Routines are important.  

I wake up early so that I can walk my dog in the morning. I have improved my sleeping patterns so much just by going to bed at the same time.  If you have a set routine for your day, healthy habits become second nature.

Make appointments with yourself. 

This might sound crazy but if you schedule time in your week for exercise, meditation or self care activities you are more likely to achieve them. Make your goals a priority and they will be easier to achieve.

Get the support of others. 

I have never understood someone who won’t exercise unless they have a friend with them.  But for many people this makes the difference between doing it or not.  Just make sure your exercise partner is as enthusiastic as you or it might backfire.

Enlist the help of professionals. 

This has helped me enormously in two areas of my life.  I was successful in losing 19kg because I went to a dietician.  The Exercise Physiologist is training me to build up my strength after losing so much condition.   Neither of those goals would have been achievable without professional help. 

Invest in yourself.  

I admit there would have been times when I would have thrown in the towel during my immunisation course.  The only thing motivating me to keep going was the amount of money I invested in it.  You’re more likely to stick at something if you paid for it. 

A hand holding a piece of paper with the words "I can't do it". Scissors cutting the t off can't so that it reads "I can do it".  Underneath are the words I achieved my goals by being self motivated.  Hard work pays off.  Midlifestylist.com
I achieved my goals by being self motivated. Hard work pays off

How being self motivated has helped me

My big news is that I am about to reach my goal of returning to my job as a Registered Nurse. Those of you who have been regular followers know that I had complications after surgery last year. I had a haemorrhage after a bilateral mastectomy which resulted in two further surgeries and a long recovery. To be able to return to work I needed to be able to fulfil all the job requirements including being able to do CPR and heavy patient cares.

I have been seeing an Exercise Physiologist since November to work on my upper body strength because I was so deconditioned after not being able to exercise for six months. It was slow progress at first because I had so much pain from using muscles that had been neglected. This year I have really turned the corner and I am seeing great results from my hard work. My Exercise Physiologist timed me doing CPR and I was able to do it for 2 minutes without any problems at all. I also needed to lift 3kg above my head and do modified push ups which I have been able to do for the last few weeks.

Achieving My Goals By Being Self Motivated

My boss is supporting me to return to work gradually, starting at 2 days per week after Easter. I am so excited at the prospect of being able to work again! I used to think it would be great to not have to work but now that I’ve been forced into that position, all I have wanted to do is get back there! There’s more to work than making a living. It’s feeling fulfilled and making a contribution to society. Nursing is a very rewarding career.

My other achievement this week is that I completed my Immunisation course. This was my Plan B in case I couldn’t return to my job. It helped me to switch on my nursing brain, and I realised that I still have it! I still think like a nurse, and I am still capable of being able to use my 35 years of experience in a positive way. It gave me a lot of confidence in my own abilities.

My word of the year is resilience. Hard work definitely does pay off. Don’t give up!

The sense of achievement when you finally reach goals that have been incredibly challenging is like no other. These other articles may be of interest if you would like some motivation to reach your goals:

Shared on Weekend Coffee Share on Natalie the Explorer’s blog and Life This Week Linkup on Denyse Whelan’s blog

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Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick’s Day

Celebrating my Irish Heritage on Saint Patrick's Day

Saint Patrick’s Day Holds Special Significance For My Family

Saint Patrick’s Day has always been important for my family because of our Irish heritage.  My mother’s maiden name was Geraghty.  My other hobby is genealogy.  I have traced our family tree back to our European roots – Irish, English, Welsh and Scottish on my mother’s side and English and Polish on my father’s.  I have another blog about our family history called This is Who We Are.

My Irish Family’s Emigration to New Zealand

My Irish ancestors emigrated from County Cavan to New Zealand in 1865 on board the Ganges.  Patrick and Bridget Geraghty (nee Brady) had an eventful journey as she gave birth to a son, naming him Bartholemew Ganges Geraghty after the ship.  There were 56 deaths on board the Ganges from bronchitis and whooping cough.

Patrick and Bridget emigrated to New Zealand because of the chance to own their own land.  The potato famine had caused 1.5 million deaths in Ireland, and led to mass emigration to New Zealand, America and other parts of the world.  They had another 11 children.  One of their children died at the age of 2, another at 16.  

The Early Settlers Had a Tough Life

Life was very tough for the Irish settlers as they were housed in rough conditions then moved to a small town in the Waikato, Tuakau.  The New Zealand wars were fought in the area.  The Alexander Redoubt was built by the British troops and it was here that the wars with the Maori took place.  The result was that land was confiscated from the Maori to be used for farming for the settlers.  This caused  a lot of tension between the settlers and the Maori in the area.

The family became flax farmers as they had been allocated a 10 acre block.  The demand for flax fibre for ropes was high, and there were numerous flax mills in the area.  The Geraghty family have made their mark in Tuakau. There are a couple of roads named after them, and the cemetary in Tuakau has many of the descendants of Patrick and Bridget. They are buried in a large grave with an impressive monument to the Geraghty name along with several of their children. They began what is now a huge number of descendants who bear the Geraghty name in their family tree.  

Treasured Memories of my Irish Grandfather

My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary.  Saint Patrick's Day is a day to remember my Irish heritage.
My grandparents on their 50th wedding anniversary. I love this photo as they both look so happy

My grandfather was a third generation New Zealander.  He moved north to Dargaville after he married my English grandmother.  My grandfather wore a green jumper frequently.  He was a gentle, kind man but also tough.  His whole back yard was a potato garden.  The potato famine must have impacted the family through the generations.

St. Patrick’s Day Is Bittersweet

My family always celebrated St. Patricks Day but it holds bittersweet memories for me.  It is also the anniversary of my mother’s death.  Mum passed away from cancer in 1991, 30 years ago today.

My mother Diana (nee Geraghty) and the author, Christina Henry.  Taken in 1990 six months before Diana passed away
My mother and I in 1990, approximately six months before she died

Her passing was quite sudden.  This photo was taken of her on my hen’s night approximately 6 months before her death.  She was completely fine then and we had no inkling that cancer was metastasizing inside her.  In January she came to stay with me and my sister and I noticed that she wasn’t herself.  She seemed vague and not sprightly, and wandered off during a walk.

A Heart-breaking Diagnosis

I took her to my GP who ordered a CT Scan of her brain.  Being a nurse, my curiosity overcame me and I looked at the results.  The shock of reading that she had multiple metastases in her brain will always stay with me.  Having to phone dad and my brothers was incredibly hard.

We never did find out what her primary cancer was, but it was probably lung cancer.  The only treatment available in those days was radiotherapy which would have taken weeks to administer, and only extended her life for a few more weeks.  We decided to take mum home and make the most of the time we had left.

She had a burning desire to see her family so we took her to Sydney and Melbourne on the train to visit them.  Her brother, sister and nephew flew from New Zealand to meet up with us there.  My sister decided to take mum back to New Zealand to visit her other family members there.  Unfortunately mum took a sudden turn for the worse and passed away in her hometown, Dargaville.

Remembering my Mother on St. Patrick’s Day

Mum’s family looked after us all so well.  Her brother arranged the funeral and she is buried with her mum in Auckland.  Every time I go to New Zealand it is the first place I visit.  We have also buried a small portion of my dad’s and sister’s ashes with mum so that they can be together in spirit.

Mum was buried on my 25th birthday.  It just seems so weird to think she’s been gone for 30 years.  She was my age – 54 when she died.  Far too young to die.  I can’t imagine dying at my age.  She definitely wasn’t ready to go.  She wanted to see grandchildren but none of her four children had had kids yet.

Saint Patrick’s Day Today

I keep in contact with her family as they are such lovely people.  I visit them when I go to New Zealand.  Over the years my celebration of my Irish heritage has become more subdued.  I used to go to an Irish pub to eat Guinness pie and enjoy the Saint Patrick’s Day festivities.  On her 10th anniversary my father, brother and I enjoyed a fantastic day in Auckland at the Irish pubs.  I just don’t enjoy it anymore.  I decided that I would have a quiet day of reflection instead.

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Sympathy vs Empathy: Which one is better?

Sympathy vs empathy Which one is better?

How do sympathy and empathy differ, and which one helps someone feel truly supported in their time of need?

The thought came into my head this morning as I was contemplating the support I have received, especially in the last year.  The comfort I have received in some instances was just what I needed in my time of need.

The difference between Sympathy and Empathy:

Sympathy vs empathy: what’s the difference?

The term sympathy is largely used to convey commiseration, pity, or feelings of sorrow for someone else who is experiencing misfortune. You feel bad for them … but you don’t know what it is like to be in their shoes.

The term empathy is most often used to refer to the capacity or ability to imagine oneself in the situation of another, experiencing the emotions, ideas, or opinions of that person.

Expressing Sympathy vs Empathy

Some people mean well, but they don’t always give me what I need in that moment.  They are expressing sympathy at my situation usually by giving me advice:  “Why don’t you look for another job?”  They express pity for me: “Oh you poor thing”.

I don’t want to be pitied as I feel sorry for myself enough!  But at the same time I realise my situation is unique and it would be unusual to meet anyone who has gone through what I have. 

I feel like the people who really make the difference don’t try and give me advice.  They listen and then when they do say something,  they are empathising with me.  “It must be so frustrating to go through that.  I would find it hard too”.  

People who empathise can put themselves in your shoes and imagine what it would be like to go through the same situation.   They don’t try to fix things, or offer advice.  They let you vent and really listen.

Thank You to my Blogging Community For the Support

The theme for Denyse Whelan’s Life This Week Linkup is floral.  I want to offer a virtual bouquet of flowers to the blogging community to which I belong.  This is because I am so grateful for the support I have received from you all.  Being stuck at home can be lonely, but through my blog I have met so many lovely people. 

I have used my blog to promote a healthy lifestyle.   But also to share my journey as I recover from complications of surgery.  Whenever I write about my struggles the comments I receive are so lovely, warm and full of empathy that I often cry. I appreciate the words of comfort that feel like they come from a place of genuine caring.

I feel like I am among friends as I can relate to a lot of you as I read your blogs.  It helps being in the same stage of life, or slightly behind.  I look forward to reading your blogs and what you’re up to.  I am inspired as well.  I’m grateful to belong to a community of amazing people. 

Empathy offers genuine support

To conclude, there is nothing wrong with offering a sympathetic ear to someone in their time of need.  Empathy takes it one step further and helps the person feel truly heard and supported. While I appreciate advice, often I just need someone to listen and acknowledge my feelings. Being part of the blogging community allows me to express myself and feel supported by people who genuinely care.

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