Michelle

I guess cancer has always been around me as far back as I can remember, my grandma passing away of ovarian cancer long before I was born when my mum was 17. I never really thought that I would ever lose my mum until I was 11 and she was diagnosed with cervical cancer. In the following couple of years I became her main carer as my brother and sisters had moved out of home and unfortunately she lost her fight aged 44 and I was just 14.

Fast forward the years, having a child of my own, going to university, living a good healthy life, holidays 3-4 times a year, own house and finally on my 40th I started to plan my wedding....life was just great, my daughter was studying in London it really couldn’t get better.

On Christmas Day three and a half years ago we got a phone call from my cousin to tell us that my mums younger sister who was now in her 60’s was having treatment for ovarian cancer. This contact was a big shock to us as we had no relationship with them due to them falling out when I was a child and had played no part in our lives; I was told that my mothers older sister had also passed away 18 months earlier from ovarian cancer too.

They wanted to reach out as my aunt had undergone genetic tests finding out that she was BRCA 2 positive and felt it was only right to make the entire family aware to allow us to have the opportunity to be tested as well as it had been so prevalent in the rest of the family.

Following this contact we looked into the gene, following this myself and 3 siblings decided to be tested. I didn’t know much about the gene apart from Angelina Jolie who had a mastectomy a couple of years earlier, I remember thinking wow that’s a brave decision!

The following few months were hard coming to terms with the news but it was bitter sweet as I got to know my aunt who was undergoing treatment at Christie’s, uncle and my cousins.

I finally got my results in August 2016 a week before my wedding and it was confirmed that I was a BRCA 2 carrier, there was absolutely no doubt in my mind that I would have the risk reducing surgery. Before that phone call I didn’t truly understand why women like Angelina Jolie would go through such extreme measures but being faced with the reality the choice was simple. I had a very high chance of getting ovarian and/or breast cancer and I had a much better chance of living a long healthy life with the surgery.

The gene has had such a massive impact on my family as a whole with my mum and her siblings all carriers and now the next generation of myself and all my siblings also having the gene. I am just grateful that this stopped with my daughter who was tested and it was negative! I cried when I heard the news I was so happy!

At aged 43 I had a full hysterectomy, an easy decision as I had already had my daughter and decided as my mum had died of cervical cancer that I wouldn’t just have my ovaries removed (we now think it’s likely the cancer started as ovarian).

During my recovering I wanted to fundraise for Christie’s the hospital where my mum had and now my aunt was having treatment. I was also that year turning 44 which for me was a massive milestone after losing my mother at that age and I wanted to do something made me feel alive and strong.... So I decided to do the Manchester marathon 26.2 miles and although I had never been a runner and was too poorly to train I signed up with my partner thinking I could run, walk or possibly crawl!

My training began and 3 months later and 4 weeks before my 44th birthday I ran the Marathon in just under 5 and half hours raising over a £1000 for Christie’s, I FaceTimed my auntie straight after and she told me how proud she was, she sadly passed the following week.

The journey for a mastectomy started soon after with various meetings with geneticists, psychologists and eventually meeting my surgeon Mr Duncan, a truly brilliant man who recommended a full mastectomy using my stomach to reconstruct my breasts known as a Diep. After waiting a further 2 long years I finally had the surgery in May, 3 months ago . I won’t lie, it’s one of the hardest things I have ever been through 9 hours of surgery and a long recovery. I look and feel like a very different person and I will be forever grateful that I have had the opportunity to live potentially many more years than the last generation of women in my family. I do have scarring but our wonderful surgeons do some amazing work and in time it will begin to fade.

I decided to share my story and support the boobee campaign to raise awareness of the BRCA gene and to let women know that if you are a carrier that it will be an emotional journey, there will be days when you have a wobble but there is light at the end of all this so try to keep positive and smile... as having preventative surgery means we now have a very very small risk of developing breast cancer. There are thousands like me and there’s a great network of support via social media platforms out there who can truly relate so you never feel alone.

I also wanted to highlight the fantastic work of the Nightingale team, Surgeon’s, Dr’s and nurses (I wouldn’t have got through my 1st few days without Mandie one of the nurses) at Wythenshawe hospital.

I can now continue with the rest of my life so thank you for all the research and genetics work you do at Prevent Breast Cancer and I hope one day that cancer will be a thing of the past so please keep fundraising and giving to continue this amazing work! I have already pledged to run the marathon again next year!

Margo Cornish