Former Gunnedah woman teams up with Brisbane Breast Bank

Jo Menken with Professor Sunil Lakhani and Tamworth resident, David McHugh, at Brisbane Breast Bank. David is the son of Father John McHugh who resides in Gunnedah. David lost his mother to breast cancer 14 years ago and is helping Jo with PR for this year's Breast Wishes Ball.
Jo Menken with Professor Sunil Lakhani and Tamworth resident, David McHugh, at Brisbane Breast Bank. David is the son of Father John McHugh who resides in Gunnedah. David lost his mother to breast cancer 14 years ago and is helping Jo with PR for this year's Breast Wishes Ball.

Former Gunnedah woman Jo Menken has given a very personal, and unusual gift to the Brisbane Breast Bank.

The 35-year-old opted to donate her breast tissue to the breast bank for research purposes when she filled in the paperwork for a Prophylactic Bilateral Mastectomy​ at Royal Brisbane and Women's Hospital (RBWH).

Jo underwent the major operation in April 2016 as a preventative measure after she tested positive for the defective BRCA2 gene, an identified fault or mutation which is commonly linked to an increased risk of breast or ovarian cancer, or both. Her daughter, Cameron has a 50 per cent chance of inheriting the mutation.

Jo Menken with her daughter Cameron.

Jo Menken with her daughter Cameron.

Based at the UQ Centre for Clinical Research, the Brisbane Breast Bank now holds the breast tissue from Jo’s operation, along with a myriad of samples from other patients.

The donation became more personal when Jo was contacted via email in October 2016 by breast bank senior post-doctoral researcher, Amy McCart Reed, a breast cancer researcher who specialises in genomics – examining “the different landscapes of breast cancer”.

The researcher tracked Jo down through her Instagram account after hearing from the nurses in the Breast Oncology Unit at the RBWH about the Breast Wishes Ball, which raised money for Pink Hope and Mummy’s Wish.

Jo Menken with breast cancer survivor Eve Wilson at the Breast Wishes Ball in October 2016.

Jo Menken with breast cancer survivor Eve Wilson at the Breast Wishes Ball in October 2016.

Dr McCart Reed said about 300 tumours were collected each year from consenting public patients at RBWH and some private patients.

“[The breast bank’s] purpose is to bank tumour or normal tissue from consenting patients so we can provide it to researchers,” she said.

“As part of our local procedure we would pick up the sample from theatre and we would courier it over to the pathology department and the pathologist would confirm the diagnosis and then they allow us to bank any surplus tissue that they have. So in Jo’s instance that would be almost the whole sample.”

Dr McCart Reed said Jo’s sample was stored in a “big liquid nitrogen Dewar”.

“It’s in its own tube and it’s in a box with hundreds of other samples,” she said.

“We do research on the samples we collect and so do lots of other people.

“It’s imperative. We can’t do strategic clinical research if we don’t have the samples.”

In November 2016, Jo organised a Melbourne Cup luncheon which raised more than $1300 for the breast bank. A week later, Jo and her daughter, Cameron, visited the breast bank, meeting founder Professor Sunil Lakhani, Dr McCart Reed and the research team.

Impressed by their work, Jo resolved to keep in contact with the team.

Jo details her new relationship with Brisbane Breast Bank on her Breast Wishes Journey Instagram account.

“I’ll do as much as I can with them,” she said.

“I have some things planned for the future which will keep raising money for them.”

Jo is currently preparing for a fundraising fitness event on May 25, partnering with BUF Girls New Farm fitness centre, which will facilitate a workout session. Funds will go to the breast bank.

Not one to rest on her laurels, Jo is already planning a “bigger and better" Breast Wishes Ball following the success of the inaugural event in 2016. The ball will be held in October, which is Breast Cancer Awareness Month in Australia.

To keep up with Jo’s activities, visit https://www.facebook.com/breastwishesJOurney/ or follow her on Instagram @breastwishesjourney