Earlier this week, I popped along to Debenhams on Oxford Street for an afternoon of tea & cake and to find out more about their #GetBackToYou campaign. Sounds straight forward enough, right? And as you can see from my pictures there was of course tea and plenty of cake, and even a few glasses of bubbly (don’t mind if I do).
But behind the pretty setting and the adorable pink trimmings, there was actually a very open and honest discussion about Cancer taking place.
Debenhams had arranged for me to meet the lovely Caroline, an ambassador for BRCA Umbrella; the forum that brings together those dealing with BRCA. What is BRCA? It is a gene mutation that is hereditary and hugely increases your chances of having Cancer. Caroline herself is a carrier of BRCA, and wanted to share her story with me, and of course you, to raise awareness of Breast Cancer and as part of the #GetBackToYou campaign, which is about promoting the well being of those affected by Cancer and helping women to get back to feeling like themselves. Here is Caroline’s story…
Caroline had lost family members to a variety of different cancers, including her Father whom she found out was a BRCA Carrier shortly after he died. He himself hadn’t even known. Caroline decided to get tested and the results showed she was positive for the gene and she was told there was an 85% chance that one day she would get Breast Cancer. Yet she couldn’t be screened for it until she was 35 years old. Imagine hearing such news and then being told it’s basically a waiting game.
Caroline went about her life as normal, looking after her three beautiful children, although she admitted to me that Cancer was always playing in the back of her mind Is there something harmful growing in my body right now that I don’t know about? She felt as though she were a ticking timebomb. But finally, at 35, Caroline was able to be screened for Breast Cancer, and was told she was to be under surveillance, which means screenings every six months. But she told me the whole ordeal was horrific. Caroline had to have an MRA scan (which she described as lying in a long scary tube whilst listening to what sounded like a war zone outside) and she had to undergo all sorts of terrifying tests. After waiting patiently for the results she was told they had found shadows on both her breasts, which meant further tests and another agonising six week wait for the next set of results. That’s six weeks of Caroline feeling terrified not only for her own life, but for her children’s future.
Caroline’s results came back clear and she was told there was no sign of Cancer, yet despite the positive news, she made the shocking decision to have a double Mastectomy.
Caroline explained how she couldn’t go through that torture every six months for the rest of her life; the testing, the waiting, the uncertainty of her life and her families future. Instead, she wanted full control, and the only way that was going to happen was if she had both her breasts removed. It’s a decision I can’t imagine would have been easy, but I absolutely admire her for making it.
Although Caroline had regained control and had squashed any chances of Breast Cancer popping up, she still ran the risk of ovarian cancer which also runs in her family. So Caroline made another shocking decision – after the birth of her fourth child, she chose to have her ovaries and both fallopian tubes removed. This was so that she could control the cancer, before the cancer could control her. Whilst others struggled to understand why Caroline would remove perfectly healthy parts of her body, others praised her for it, including me! I can completely see why she made these decisions, Caroline wanted there to be zero opportunities for Cancer to take over her life.
However, I couldn’t help but think of the women who may not want to make these decisions, such as me. I can put my hands up and say that if I found myself in Caroline’s situation, I too would probably have the mastectomy. As painful as it would be to lose my booobs because, well, they’re my boobs and I love them, they are what make me feel like a woman, but at the end of the day, they’re just a pair of tits, right? They’re just skin … sort of.
But as a childless woman, if I was told I was at high risk of having ovarian cancer, could I give up my ovaries and tubes, or in my case, tube? (I had my right fallopian tube removed during emergency surgery a few years ago, it saved my life but unfortunately decreased my chances of children by 42%). Would I give up my chance to have children? I can’t imagine having to make that decision, and how devastating a decision it would be. I thought of all the women who would have to think that through, in particular the women who aren’t yet mothers. No woman should ever have to give up the ability or the choice to have children. Just as no woman should have to give up her breasts for prevention from a disease, and my heart goes out to every single woman who has had to go through this.
But for Caroline it was the right decision. She now knows she has a long future ahead with her family, and she feels incredibly positive about it. And by golly is she back to herself. She divides her life between being a wonderful mother and being a wonderful ambassador and running the BRCAUmbrella site, where she offers help and guidance to others going through what she went through. I don’t doubt that Caroline worries if her children will carry the BRCA gene, but the hope is that by the time they grow up, we will have advanced even further in medicine, which is why Debenhams are supporting Breast Cancer Awareness Month…
Debenhams have been supporting Breast Cancer Now, the UK’s largest Breast Cancer Charity, for more than 14 years and have raised an incredible £4million to support pioneering breast cancer research. And as it’s Breast Cancer Awareness month, they are at it again! This year their campaign is called Get Back To You and is focused around helping women with Cancer, recovering from Cancer or Cancer related Surgeries, to getting back to feeling themselves. They have already given a number of women affected by Cancer amazing in-store makeovers with the likes of Henry Holland. And now they are offering unique ways for you to contribute to Breast Cancer Now, in style of course:
This homeware collection designed by Aliza Reger is available in store and online, and 25% of all sales from these products are donated to Breast Cancer Now (I’ve got my eye on that poodle cup)
During Breast Cancer Awareness month, Debenhams will also be donating 50p from all Spirit products sold, and Spirit even have a post-surgery range!
Did you know Debenhams did flowers? And they’re blooming gorgeous too (see what I did there *wink wink*). For Breast Cancer Awareness month, they are selling this beautiful Pink Heart Bouquet for £29.99, of which £3 is donated to Breast Cancer Now. So why not send a bouquet to someone you love, or just Treat Yo’Self! Mine are now sitting beautifully in my blog corner.
I’d like to say a BIG Thank you to Caroline for sharing her story with us, and to Debenhams for arranging it (and the cake – nom)
If you’d like to find out more about Caroline or the BCRA gene, check out the BRCA Umbrella Forumn here – brcaumbrella.ning.com
Or Tweet Caroline and the BRCAUmbrella Team here – @brcaumbrella