At the age of 22 when most of us were busy living for the weekend, Gabriella was grappling with issues bigger than some of us have to face in a lifetime. Having tragically lost her adored mother to Breast Cancer the year before, Gabriella - or Gabby, as she is known to her Instagram community - was processing the news that she too, carried the genetic mutation that placed her in the ‘high risk’ category for developing the same devastating disease. With the likes of Angelina Jolie using her platform to raise awareness for the BRCA1 & BRCA2 gene mutations (opting herself to undergo a double mastectomy in 2013), Gabby was in the frustrating position of not knowing exactly what gene placed her in this high risk category - only that she had a hereditary mutation that science has not quite yet been able to pinpoint.
By 26, Gabby made the decision to undergo a Preventative Double Mastectomy - a choice that not only comes with the full spectrum of emotions, but the ripple effect of that decision touches on every aspect of her life today. The relief, joy, sadness and heartache are all chronicled beautifully for her followers on instagram @gabriella.maria.c , where sharing her story has enabled her to not only connect with fellow previviors, but educate and inspire. From the practicalities of what to take into hospital when undergoing surgery to documenting the literal highs and lows of post reconstructive surgery breast tissue expansion; Gabby is upfront, honest and beautifully, disarmingly open.
Some of her most heartbreakingly real and raw moments arrived along with the birth of her gorgeous daughter Amalia in April this year. The removal of her breasts also required the removal of her milk ducts - meaning grieving for her breasts all over again when it came to feeding her daughter. “You actually grieve the loss of your breasts when you have a mastectomy. It’s empowering but also a reminder of your risk on a daily basis…” Gabby explains. “People think they are helping when they try to reassure you and say ‘breastfeeding isn’t that great anyway’, but it’s totally different if they actually had a choice in the matter.” she says.
It’s an issue that Gabby is fearlessly advocating for all women - previvors or not.
“I feel there’s so little knowledge of what a mastectomy actually is, that people don’t know what you are giving up when you make the choice to have one. It was confronting to relive the ‘are you breastfeeding?’ question every single pre and post-natal appointment,” she admits.
“The hospital was my safe space - all the nursing staff knew I didn’t have milk ducts and the physical ability to produce milk, but the outside world was different. While I didn’t have a choice in the matter, other women are also in the same boat for numerous different reasons. I would love to see safe, regulated information on early stage formula feeding to be more readily accessible to all women.” Gabby says.
“Above all, I don’t want to feel shame anymore. Shame that my baby is lacking when she really isn’t, shame that I didn’t give my baby the opportunity to be breastfed and that I somehow failed her. If we somehow normalised formula feeding more, I am sure we would create a safer feeding journey for all of us women who simply can’t breastfeed.”
It’s a bold and powerful statement from a woman who has endured so much, yet talks bravely about strength, privilege and treading kindly in spaces we hurt.
Amalia has given Gabby the gift of knowing the depth of love that her own mother had for her when her first reaction to her cancer diagnosis was ‘what about my daughter?’ Parenthood has reinforced the feeling of knowing she will never regret having her mastectomy. If anything, it has unshackled her from the burden of living with the inevitable. For now, she is enjoying every up and down on the parenthood ride with her partner Anthony who has supported her every step of the way.
“My priority was to live and be alive and beat cancer in its race towards me. Even with the inability to breastfeed and the aesthetic difference, my priority was to stay alive. I’m alive, my baby is fed and I will live a much longer, healthier life because of the decisive decisions of my 26 year old self!” she says proudly - and rightly so.
October is World Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For more information on Breast Cancer, visit the National Breast Cancer Foundation on nbcf.org.au or for support, call the Breast Cancer Network Australia on 1800 500 258.
Read more and about Gabriella’s incredible previvor story on her instagram page @gabriella.maria.c