After losing her mum and her mum’s cousin to cancer, Sarah discovered breast and ovarian cancer ran in her family. Sadly, despite her best efforts to reduce the risk, Sarah was diagnosed with ovarian cancer in her thirties. She is committed to raising awareness about familial cancer.
My mum was 52 when she died of breast cancer, 20 years after getting the all clear from when she was first diagnosed.
My mum’s cousin was just 22 years old when she’d died of breast cancer, so we decided to get mum’s blood tested, which she’d donated for research before passing away. We found out mum carried the BRCA1 gene mutation, which meant that cancer was a genetic risk in our family.
A difficult decision
The discovery left me with a difficult decision to make. I was 32 years old, and on my own with two young girls. I was told the risk of getting breast cancer was higher than that of getting ovarian cancer because I was so young.
With breast cancer so predominate in my family, and because there had been no ovarian cancer in my family it seemed to make sense to have a mastectomy and reduce my risk of getting breast cancer.
I had a double mastectomy – but it wasn’t a smooth operation. I fell very ill with MRSA, which resulted in 18 months of infection. At one point they had to remove the implant from my left side, which left me with nothing there. It was traumatising.
After that experience, the last thing on my mind was removing my ovaries; and having been told that the risk of ovarian cancer wasn’t relevant to me until my 40s, I put it to the back of my mind.
A clinical study
When I turned 35, I qualified to take part in a clinical study. It looked at whether you can detect ovarian cancer at an early stage, when treatment is likely to be more successful, by screening high risk women.
Every four months my blood was tested for CA125, which can be an early warning sign for ovarian cancer.
After a year, my CA125 started to come back high. However, doctors ruled out ovarian cancer because I was so young, even though I was BRCA positive.
Later, further investigation found cysts on my ovaries. The doctors still weren’t overly worried, and said they’d keep an eye on them. In the meantime, my CA125 was rising.
Finally, about 18 months later, I had keyhole surgery to have one of the cysts removed. Results came back: I had ovarian cancer, and it had already spread to both ovaries, omentum and was very close to my bowel.
I’m now doing as much as I can to make people aware of the risks of having a family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer. I’ve even spoken to MPs in parliament about my experience.
When you know the risk, you’re empowered to make choices to reduce that risk. It’s not about scaring people, it’s about giving them the chance to be realistic.
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