At 31-years-old, and during the week of her daughter’s first birthday, Gemma Isaacs received shocking news. Not only did her doctor confirm that she had the BRCA1 gene, but that the swollen lymph node they biopsied was, in fact, breast cancer. Two years since her diagnosis, Gemma has survived chemotherapy, radiation, and a double mastectomy, and has now welcomed her miracle baby boy into the world.
Before the birth of first-born Ella, Gemma hadn’t intended on getting the test for the BRCA gene. “I had kind of planned in my head that I was going to have a family and once I finished having children, I would have my test because I thought then I would be happy to go ahead and have surgery,” explained Gemma. “That was my mindset.” However, once she became a mom, Gemma knew she needed to start planning for the future. “I decided I didn’t want to do that anymore and just wanted to find out about the gene mutation. Having a baby changed my perspective.”
When Gemma was told by her doctor that she had a small mass in her right breast, as well as the BRCA1 gene, Gemma sprung into action. She began chemotherapy and radiotherapy right away, but had concerns that the treatment would impact her fertility. Despite harvesting her eggs and embryos before starting treatment, there were still no guarantees about the long-term impacts treatment would have on her body.
After extensive months of treatment, losing her hair, and opting to have a double mastectomy, Gemma maintained her positive attitude and made it her mission to keep any sense of normalcy she could. And for Gemma, that meant keeping up with her rigorous workout routine. “Throughout my cancer journey, exercise was really important to me. I would go to the gym and run as much as possible,” said Gemma. “Before cancer, I ate well and trained. Obviously, it doesn’t matter who you are — cancer can affect you, but I wanted to keep that up and feel it really helped my recovery.”
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After posting her story online, Gemma quickly found other women with the BRCA gene looking for support. She soon began organizing gatherings for people in similar situations and, eventually, she co-founded BRCA Sisters as a support group for young people affected by genetic cancers. In April of 2019, after recovering from her double mastectomy surgery, Gemma ran the Royal Parks Half Marathon with four other women and raised over $8,000 for the BRCA Sisters organization.
After two years of surgeries, tests, radiation, and more, Gemma was finally cancer-free. She met with a fertility doctor who noted that Gemma’s ovaries were longer working within her regular cycle and her hormone levels were low. Though the doctor suggested hormone replacement therapy, Gemma insisted on a more natural process. She opted for a hormone-free vegan diet and, by the end of 2019, she became pregnant with baby boy Jack.
“I had a very easy pregnancy, which I would say was marred only by a fear of something bad happening again from my past experiences. After dealing with chemotherapy and a double mastectomy, not much feels difficult anymore,” Gemma told Metro.co.uk. “I am not sure I will ever shake the feeling of waiting for something to go wrong, particularly as now things feel so positive, but I am trying to enjoy every moment.”
“Being a family of four is something, after being diagnosed, I never believed would happen and I am not sure the reality has actually set in.”
“I want to support others going through BRCA diagnosis or breast cancer, but I also want to do more to show the benefits of movement and exercise for those going through cancer.” You can follow Gemma on Instagram to keep up with her journey, as well as the BRCA Sisters’ Instagram to learn more about the organization.