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'I could not do this without her': Alberta twins fighting stage 4 breast cancer together

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Identical twins often have a lot in common, but a pair of Alberta sisters never could have imagined they’d share a heartbreaking cancer diagnosis.

Connie Claeys and Cortney Drover have stage four metastatic breast cancer and are sharing their story in hopes of inspiring others.

“I was blindsided and I just never want to be blindsided like that again,” says Drover.

“Just always get it checked out because you never know and even if people say it could never happen to you, it can happen to you."

Drover, who is the oldest twin by around five minutes, felt a lump in her armpit in 2015.

She didn’t worry about it because her family doctor wasn’t concerned but decided to get it checked at the request of her mother.

She was shocked within a couple of months of discovering the lump to be diagnosed with stage three breast cancer, at 29 years old.

“I should have been concerned but just knowing so little about cancer and when doctors are literally telling you you’re too young, you believe it,” she says.

“Now I know that was so wrong but it is pretty crazy that I did think it was nothing because it was something massive and just thought nothing of it.”

With her family, including her husband and four-year-old son by her side, Drover was ready for the fight of her life but was devastated when doctors discovered two tumours in her twin’s scans, who had been checked as a precaution.

“I kind of remember getting the ultrasound done and looking up and seeing on the screen a dark circle and in that moment, I’m not a tech, but I knew in that moment it wasn’t supposed to be there. The difference between Cortney and my journey is I never felt anything, I never felt anything,” says Claeys.

Connie Claeys and Cortney Drover.

Marc Webster, the pair’s oncologist, has never experienced identical twins presenting within weeks of each other, as seen with Claeys and Drover.

Through testing, it was determined the pair had a BRCA-2 gene mutation. After their diagnosis, the twin’s younger sister and aunt were also tested and found out they had the BRCA-2 gene mutation.

Webster says having a BRCA mutation increases someone’s risk of developing breast cancer in their lifetime by 70 per cent.

“This was a really unique case and one that is sad that cancer developed in such a young age,” he explained.

“These individuals can get breast cancer at an early age but usually we don’t see it until their 40s and 50s, which made this exceptionally uncommon and unfortunate situation for both of them."

Drover underwent chemotherapy and radiation while Claeys was on medication. Both women also underwent a double mastectomy in 2016.

They thought they had overcome their battles, but in 2020 they each learned separately that the cancer had spread and were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer.

“When I had my second diagnosis it was almost like a relief, and that sounds so crazy, but to know I was now in the same boat as her and we had each other and she wasn’t alone,” says Claeys.

The sisters aren’t letting their diagnoses stop them from living life to the fullest, though they admit they have difficult days and others that are full of fear.

Both are grateful and find strength from the support of their husbands, Drover’s three young children and their entire family.

The pair take medication every day and say their cancer has remained at bay for roughly three years, but understand that may change.

“We don’t hide the fact that one day this could stop working or one day it could get worse, but it’s not right now,” says Claeys, who added they are determined to live every day to the fullest.

While their journey is never something they could have imagined going through at the same time, now they can’t imagine doing it without the other.

“It was harder for us to hear about each other's diagnosis, we would have done anything to take that away from each other,” says Claeys.

“As much as it sucks, and you never ever want someone to go through this, but our journey has completely changed because we both have it we can lean on each other,” says Drover.

The pair urge people to pay attention to their bodies, get routine checkups and be their own advocates if something doesn’t feel right.

Breast cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer among Canadian women, with one in eight expected to be diagnosed in their lifetime.

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