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Life with a faulty gene

Three years ago Fiona Coaton, 31, discovered that she carried a faulty BRCA1 gene. On learning that women with this gene abnormality have on average a 55 per cent chance of developing breast cancer, she chose to have a full mastectomy.

 

“After my aunt, my dad’s sister, was diagnosed with breast and ovarian cancer, my dad was tested to see if he carried a faulty BRCA1 gene. When he found out that he had it, he came to see me and I decided to find out too. Knowing what my auntie had been through, I knew that if I had it too, then I was going to get a mastectomy and [at some point have] have my ovaries removed.

“It took three months of tests for me to find out that I had a faulty BRCA1 gene. Because I knew what I wanted to do already, I was in the right frame of mind to start the process of surgery straight away. The operation was 100 times better than I’d imagined. My surgeon made the whole surgery side of things very reassuring and not scary at all. The nurses were wonderful.

“After my surgery I went on a massive health kick and got my weight down to the lowest it’s ever been. Having read lots of healthy

recipe books I started clean eating. And when you start doing that, you think ‘I might as well get active’, and so I bought a Fitbit, which I absolutely love.

“I’ve always been positive, but my outlook on life is even more so now, especially as I have a 12-week-old son, Leo. It does bother me that he could have this gene, but my husband and I are never going to shy away from telling him. It’ll be up to him if he wants to find out when he’s older.

“I feel that I was given a gift by finding out that I have this genetic fault. I’ve got friends who have breast cancer and weren’t given advance notice. I realise how lucky I am. If you find out that you’ve got a faulty BRCA1 gene, you’ve got to be positive. You’ve been given a heads up.”

See how Fiona gets active

 

 

Remembering her daughter every day

Fourteen years ago Amanda Jones, 75, lost her daughter Becs, 33, to breast cancer. In celebration of Becs’ life, she has raised £280,000 for Breast Cancer Now since 2003.

 

“Becs was the youngest of my three children and we all adored her. She was just 32 and living with her husband in France when she rang to tell me that she’d found a lump, which turned out to be cancer.

“Following chemotherapy and radiotherapy another lump developed, which meant she had to have a mastectomy and an entirely new course of treatment. We couldn’t believe it as she was so young and healthy. She was incredibly brave and always wanting to have fun when she felt well enough to do so. Sadly, by March 2003, the cancer had spread to her liver and we knew that she wasn’t going to survive. We were all with her when she died just 11 months after diagnosis. It was horrendous.

“When I was finally able to think about the future, I decided to honour her memory by doing something positive on her behalf. I started fundraising for Breast Cancer Now with a coffee morning at home. It raised £300 and I thought ‘I think I can do this and I’m not going to

stop!’ We’ve just passed the 14th anniversary of Becs’ death and I am still fundraising and will do so for ever.

“I did 10 years of the Moon Walk, which I loved. I also did Race for Life every year. I’d do anything that would keep me fit and raise money. I walk a lot, swim and occasionally even clamber onto a horse!

“When it comes to breast cancer, there is – and always will be – hope. It’s very difficult after the shock of a diagnosis, but there are so many ways that you can be helped both physically and emotionally. In the 14 years since Becs’ death the advances in treatment have been incredible. Had Becs been diagnosed now, I am certain that she wouldn’t have died.

“I want people to know that everywhere there will be people rooting for them. And, whether you’ve survived breast cancer or are living with breast cancer, you can still live a fantastic and fulfilling life, which is why I’ll never stop doing what I do.”

See how Amanda gets active

 

Beating cancer on her terms

Sarah Falola, 45, discovered that she had breast cancer in May 2015, just five months after losing her husband to a rare form of cancer. Following a mastectomy, she finished treatment in January 2017. Sarah lives in London with her three sons, aged 12, 10 and eight.

 

“I lost my husband Ayo to cancer in December 2015 and was still grieving when I found a lump in my breast five months later. I couldn’t believe it. How could this possibly be? My nipple also started to change, so I went to see the GP who sent me for a mammogram, which was completely clear. When you’re under 50, mammograms aren’t always reliable, so to be on the safe side I had an ultrasound, which with biopsies showed I had cancer.

“After my diagnosis, I knew straight away that I wanted a mastectomy. Our family had been living with cancer for eight years and I just thought, ‘I’ve got three young children, I will not give this disease any more of my time.’ I had the surgery a month later and it felt good to make that choice. It gave me a sense of control, which was very powerful.

“I finished chemotherapy at the end of November and had my last dose of radiotherapy in January this year. All I’d been focusing on was getting through it and making sure my children were OK. And then, when it finished, it felt very strange. What now? I hadn’t had any real time

between losing my husband and being diagnosed to grieve properly, so finishing treatment was hard as it took me right back to the day I lost him. I started working again in March and I’m slowly rediscovering who I am.

“We are a very active family. My husband was a former athlete and a sports coach and the boys are just like him. I’m on medication, which is giving me a lot of joint pain, but I try to be as active as possible. With my boys I have to be! We take the dog for walks, go for cycle rides and do lots of outdoor things. I’m having my last reconstructive surgery in the autumn and after that I really want to get back in shape.

“I’ve been told I’m cancer-free, which is great, although the worry never leaves you. While I was ill, I got involved with Breast Cancer Now because I wanted to turn something awful into something positive. And it felt empowering to meet other women like me. They, and my friends and family, tell me how strong I am. I don’t feel it all the time, but I’m hoping that I am strong. I’m done with cancer. It’s taken too much of my life and I’m not going to let it take anymore.”

See how Sarah gets active

Photographer: Matt Holyoak

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