A Woodbridge woman who had a double mastectomy to counter her increased risk of cancer now faces the unthinkable — She has been diagnosed with an advanced form of the disease.
Six years ago, Gina Maltese found out she has the BRCA1 gene mutation which gave her an 87-per-cent risk of getting breast and ovarian cancer.
She made the difficult decision to have both her breasts and her ovaries removed as a preventative measure. Her ovaries were taken out first, followed by the double mastectomy in 2013 — and her risk was lowered to five per cent.
The pathology report revealed no traces of cancer in Maltese’s ovaries, fallopian tubes and breast tissue.
“I was thinking, ‘Great. I did what I had to do,’” she said. “I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders and I was so relieved and happy that I did make that decision.”
Then, a few months ago she started feeling unwell. An abscess developed under her right arm and wouldn’t heal.
The wife and mother of two was diagnosed with triple negative Stage 4 breast cancer two weeks ago. The disease had spread to her lungs and won’t respond to hormonal therapy or treatments that target HER2 receptors.
“I was beside myself,” she said. “I couldn’t believe it. I couldn’t believe that after everything I did to prevent it, I ended up actually getting it.”
But although doctors here say she can’t be cured and that standard chemotherapy will only buy her time, she hasn’t given up.
“I’m not going to accept that,” she said. “I decided not to accept that because I don’t want just time.
“I want to live. I don’t want to be here for a month or two. I want to be here longer for my kids and my husband.”
This weekend, Maltese is leaving for a clinic in Germany to try cutting-edge chemo not available in Canada. She needs at least four treatments, and each one costs the equivalent of $35,000 Cdn.
A GoFundMe campaign started a week ago has already raised more than half of its $100,000 goal, and her doctor at Toronto’s Princess Margaret Cancer Centre has agreed to endorse her application for provincial funding for her last two treatments.
Maltese, who works as an elementary school teacher in Toronto, now wishes she never had the surgeries and instead chose the option of getting screened every six months.
She says maybe then, doctors would have caught the cancer early when it was still treatable.
“I second doubted myself,” she said. “I thought maybe I shouldn’t have even done the surgery.
“Maybe if I went for testing more often, more frequently, then it would’ve been caught at an [earlier] stage and it wouldn’t have got this far and I would’ve been better off.”