Stacey Gadd – Pink Hope
Stacey Gadd is a (kinda new) resident of Campbelltown, a lover of noodle soup and brand ambassador for Pink Hope, a charity dedicated to high-risk breast cancer families. She has been on an incredible journey over the past 10 years after choosing to have a double mastectomy at the age of 22, she now spends a lot of her time dedicated to talking about her boobs and being a strong sassy independent woman. Who doesn’t love that?! The Westies sat down with Stacey in the beautiful Mount Annan Botanic Gardens to talk life, love and boobs…
The Westies: Tell me a little bit more about the journey that you went on to end up at this preventative surgery.
Stacey: I suppose my story begins like so many high-risk families…it begins well before I was born. My Mum found a lump in her breast when she was 26. She went to the doctors to get it checked and at that point in time they actually turned her away, they said, “You’re too young for it to be anything too serious, don’t worry about it”. Now Mum’s a nurse, so she wasn’t remotely satisfied with that so she ended up going back to get a biopsy that revealed the devastating news that it was cancer, and it was quite advanced. So she had a radical mastectomy, six weeks of radio therapy, 12 months of chemo, at that point in time. And she survived coming out of that, although life can be a bit ironic, a bit cruel – her Mum was diagnosed for the first time that exact same year. My grandma didn’t survive, so I think she had about a four-year battle and passed away. My Mum did survive; she went on to start a family, I was born when she was 30. And my little sister was born when Mum was 32.
Unfortunately Mum went on to get cancer again just after Laura was born at 32, and then again at 38, 40, and 46. So she has battled it a total of five times. Which is incredible, it’s absolutely incredible. She is definitely a true survivor. She has been happy and healthy for the last 14 years now which I’m very, very happy about.
The Westies: So you knew that breast cancer was a risk for your future?
Stacey: Yeah. Laura and I knew, we’ve always known, that there was a chance we’d inherit this genetic mutation but it didn’t really scare us and I think that’s because Mum has always been very pragmatic. When we turned 18 we both had our generic tests, and both our results came back positive for the gene mutation, and we’re like, “Oh yeah, that makes sense, but that’s alright, we’ve got options.” We knew we had options. And straightaway we both got good doctors – the same doctor, she’s amazing – and started a program of regular surveillance. So six monthly check-ups, MRI scans, physical checks, all of that stuff until we both decided to go ahead with preventative surgery at 22.
The Westies: Tell me more about the BRACA2 gene. What is the gene? What does that actually mean?
Stacey: At a very basic level, it means I am predisposed to developing breast and/or ovarian cancer. Breast slightly more so than ovarian – the statistics I was given at diagnosis was I think 60 percent chance of getting breast cancer and a 40 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer.
The Westies: What was it that made you decide the preventative surgery was for you?
Stacey: There was no lightbulb moment for me when I went, “Okay, actually, I’m going to go preventive.” I think I’m naturally a very risk-averse person so once you’ve moved through the emotions of what life might be like removing your breasts then it was something that made a lot of sense to me.
I booked it a year in advance, so I had a year really to learn to live with the fact that that was coming up I suppose, processing my thoughts and my feelings attached to preventative surgery.
It’s really, really important for me to highlight the fact that preventative surgery is not the right answer for everyone. There are a whole bunch of options out there for women in my situation. I remember the first time they presented the option of preventative surgery to me at 18 years old, my doctor sat down and she said to me, “You know, you’ve got two different approaches here. We can do regular surveillance, whatever we need to keep an eye on you and make sure if there are any changes we pick them up really quickly.” She said, “The second path that people are going down is around preventative surgery. So that’s essentially removal of the breasts.” I remember sitting there at 18 and going, “Oh, that’s a little bit dramatic.” I’ve only just grown them!”
Stacey: I also spoke to a genetics counsellor. At that time it was almost unheard of for someone that young to have preventative surgery, so there was some concerns about me having them removed. And I’m glad that they have those stops in place. I went and I had this session, and the doctor went through a whole bunch of issues, like would I be okay with the fact that I might end up with a result that wasn’t as cosmetically good as my starting point? And of course it never was going to be, I was 22.
The Westies: You’ve got the best boobs of your life at 22!
The Westies: You were 22, which is as we’ve talked about is very young. You were single at the time that your breasts were actually removed. What has that meant for you in terms of relationships and dating?
Stacey: I am very open about the fact that I’ve had my breasts removed. It’s not something that I tend to hide. And I haven’t found it to be an issue for dating or relationships. I’m also comfortable with my decision and the results of my surgery, and I think that sets the bar for how other people have reacted to me. It’s never been a problem. My partners have always been very supportive of the fact that I’ve had this surgery, and it’s never been an issue for them.
The Westies: You’ve been very involved in Pink Hope, but what is the charity actually about?
Stacey: Pink Hope is a preventative health organisation that is working to ensure that every single individual out there can assess, manage, and reduce their risk of breast and ovarian cancer.
The Westies: How did you become a Pink Hope Ambassador?
Stacey: I found out that I carried the BRCA2 gene when I underwent genetic testing at 18 and during that journey I got put in touch with 60 Minutes, who wanted to do a story on familial breast cancer, preventative surgery and the BRCA2 gene. There was a big gap in resources for high risk young women at that time. My mother found a random documentary one night on SBS and it about a girl in the UK and she was navigating her high risk journey. I watched this documentary over and over and over again and it kind of made me go, “Oh! I’m actually not alone. She’s done it, she’s okay. I’ll be fine!”
By agreeing to do 60 Minutes I really wanted to be able to give that feeling to even just one other person. I agreed to do 60 Minutes and they had another girl on board to do the story and that girl was Krystal [the founder of Pink Hope], I ended up meeting her in February 2009 which was one month before our show went to air and one month before Pink Hope officially launched. All of a sudden I had someone I could speak to about my experiences, someone I could relate to. That was a pretty big moment in my life.
The Westies: So what is next up for Pink Hope?
Stacey: We’ve just launched the ‘Pinky Promise’ campaign, we’ve got the front cover of Elle Magazine with Lily Aldridge and Rosie Huntington-Whiteley. They are BFFs and the hashtag is #bffpinkypromise. And the whole idea around this particular campaign is essentially getting people to promise that no matter what, pinky promise that they’ll have their bestie’s back when it comes to health. And it’s around making sure that you’ve made a promise with your bestie that you’ll make sure that you both go and have your regular checkups, your regular mammograms, your regular visits to the doctor. Just make your health a priority. Because this world that we live in, it’s so easy to let it slide.
The second biggest campaign we run in a year is Bright Pink Lipstick Day. The idea behind Bright Pink Lipstick Day is to get women to put on their brightest pink lipstick and use that as a platform to start a conversation with their loved ones about their family health history. We’ve got a whole bunch of hints and tips as to how to go about that conversation. What information do you need to find out? How can you approach it?
The Westies: Do you ever feel like your boobs define you?
Stacey: No, not at all. Not at all. They are part of who I am, they are a part of my story, but so are so many other things. I love eating noodle soup. I’m obsessed with cooking shows. I love to travel. There’s so much more to me and my life than my boobs.
Interview: Emma Wright
Photos: Katrina James