After The Double Mastectomy We Worry About Our Daughters

After The Double Mastectomy We Worry About Our Daughters

When I discovered that I was carrying the BRCA2 gene fault I had already had both of my breasts removed. There had been a lump in one and there was enough worrying stuff going on in the other to support my preferred option.  As I say in You Can Get Through This!, I knew in my heart that leaving hospital braless, wearing a T-shirt and feeling flat but symmetrical would give me the best possible chance of coping emotionally.

The fact that my grandmother and maternal aunt both had breast cancer when they were relatively young suggested a genetic link so I had the blood test and, eventually, the positive result. While the breasts had already been taken care of, I followed my surgeons’ advice to have my ovaries removed as the fault also brings an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

But this was the easy part.

At the time, my daughter was 14 year old and I now knew that she had a 50 per cent chance of carrying the same gene fault.

What I wanted to do was have her screened without telling her, find that she was fine and breathe a big sigh of relief. Of course, there’s no way a parent can have a child screened without his or her consent, and there’s no way a child can give consent until he or she is 18. So I decided there was absolutely no point in raising the subject until then. By her 18th birthday I still wasn’t sure that telling her was the right thing. I was worried that I might inadvertently plant the idea in her mind that breast cancer was inevitable for her, particularly as her great aunt died from the disease when she was only 22. But in the end I decided I didn’t have the right to keep information from her that might in any way affect the choices she made, particularly in terms of screening.

Angelina Jolie is reported as saying that she made the difficult decision to have a double mastectomy so that she could tell her children “they don’t need to fear they will lose me”. I made most of my own treatment choices on the same grounds.

If only we could also reassure them that they will never have to deal with the issue themselves.

At the moment, a woman who knows she has a gene fault has very limited choices. If our daughters decide to take the test as soon as they’re old enough, they could be worrying about whether or not to keep their breasts or, more challenging still, their ovaries, while they’re still in their teens.

Some carriers are now choosing foetal screening to ensure that their daughters won’t inherit the fault – or, indeed, their sons, who are less likely to suffer from related cancers than their sisters but could still pass it on to their own daughters. I have no idea whether Angelina Jolie has that peace of mind. If not, let’s hope that by the time her daughters are adults, today’s brutal options will be a thing of the past.

3 comments

  1. Suzy Bonica

    Wonderfully written!

  2. So true! It’s a nasty disease that forces one to make some hard decisions. We should applaud the brave ones who manage to do that!