Why Felicity had a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her risk of developing breast cancer after losing her mother, grandmother and great grandmother
After losing multiple female family members to cancer, doctors concluded that Felicity had a much higher risk of developing breast cancer despite not carrying any known hereditary gene mutations. Here she explains why she chose to undergo a prophylactic mastectomy to reduce her risk of suffering the same fate.
I have a very significant family history of breast cancer, both premenopausal and postmenopausal. My great grandmother, my grandmother and my mother all died of breast cancer as well as my mother’s two sisters. I’m the last woman standing from that maternal line, as well my three daughters.
I was very aware that there may be something genetically or environmentally going on. I’d been in conversation with my GP about this for a while, but cumulatively over the last few years I’d had about 6 or 7 urgent referrals for suspected breast cancer. That is much less dramatic than it probably sounds, but if you find a lump, cyst or some kind of tissue that you’re not happy with, please have it checked out by a doctor.
My mum left a lot of genetic material frozen in laboratories, which were tested and came back as negative for numerous gene mutations connected to breast cancer, including BRCA 1, BRCA 2 and PALB2, so they said they wouldn’t test me for those mutations.
The clinical geneticists, who are brilliant, said ‘you don’t have any of those recognised gene mutations, but they are probably the tip of the iceberg in terms of cancer causing genetic codes. There will be probably hundreds, if not thousands, that we haven’t yet determined. And looking at your family history, there can be little doubt that something genetic is happening here.
‘So the most sensible thing for us to do is recommend that you have prophylactic mastectomy surgery just because it looks likely that something is going on, either genetically or environmentally, in your family.
‘And just for your mental health, you know, you’ve had a ringside seat to more loss from breast cancer than really anyone should have to bear. So I think on both fronts, it’s probably a sensible decision.’
It meant hopefully I won’t have any more of these cysts and it may save my life, and we’ve had so much loss from breast cancer. My children will never know their grandmother. I never knew my maternal grandmother. It just seemed like a very sensible, positive, empowering thing to do.
I feel like the reduction will dramatically decrease any sort of anxiety that I’ve had about breast cancer. I mean for any woman who feels a lump in their breast? It’s very frightening. But when you have the additional dread of history repeating itself, it feels incredibly powerful and liberating.
I think my outlook for the future is much brighter and more, it’s relief almost drawing a line over it, saying I’ve done as much as I can do here and in this awful line of people getting breast cancer, I’m the first person in my family to have a prophylactic mastectomy and proactively ahead of time.
I was thrilled to have it, and I think that’s another thing that people have found quite difficult to get their heads around. People have said a lot to me, ‘this is a really brave decision. This is a really difficult decision for you.’ But it has been the easiest decision of my life and it’s a decision that I’m so thrilled and grateful for.
There aren’t that many countries in the world where you’d be offered this free of charge. ‘This isn’t active treatment, but let’s do this for you anyway. Let’s give you an entire day of a plastic surgeon, and a breast reconstruction team.’ They did it all on the same day. So it made for a big surgery, six to seven hours.
It was not even in my mind that they would offer me a reconstruction. I thought I will come out of this surgery flat chested with two horizontal scars across my chest. I was delighted to be offered the surgery.
They said that ‘any woman would be offered a reconstruction, but we’re particularly mindful to offer you one because you’re in your 30s,’ and it was never a difficult decision for me.
The reconstruction is so excellent the professionals are absolutely the best. They are world leading professionals in my area, the quality of care is excellent. The cosmetic result is excellent and the feeling of having that risk so dramatically reduced is absolutely life changing. It is, without question, one of the most positive and powerful steps that I have taken.
My advice to anybody else who’s being offered it is to absolutely grab it with both hands. The brilliant professionals that look after you are second to none. I cannot say enough positive things about this procedure and just would encourage anybody with a family history to look into this and discuss it and really understand what treatments are available.
When I had been approved to have my double prophylactic mastectomy, what I really wanted to do was to help raise some money for a breast cancer charity and, if possible, ally myself with a smaller charity that was local. I chose to run the Oxford Half Marathon and it was just very fortunate that when I was looking through local charities that were affiliated with it, I found Against Breast Cancer. I thought this is perfect.
I couldn’t believe how much I raised, over two thousand pounds. I thought if I could just raise £500 that would be nice. The thing is, I didn’t really go to town. I didn’t put it on my social media. I just put it on a few WhatsApp groups. So I just did kind of work friends and friends from the village and family, obviously. So yeah, I was really pleased and it really made me think.
I’ll be doing some more of this fundraising. I loved having something positive to focus on before the surgery. It really kind of took my mind off it and I loved raising some money for such a great charity.