After Katie’s mum and half-sister were diagnosed with breast cancer, Katie and her sister discovered they all had the altered BRCA2 gene. Katie’s name will appear on the Force India car at the US Grand Prix, helping to raise awareness.
There was no mention of the BRCA gene
My half-sister, Melissa, was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010. A year later, my mum was also diagnosed. Their treatment was going on around the same time so it’s hard for me to remember exactly how I felt.
I know that we were all shocked and extremely worried. Especially for Melissa, as she had a more aggressive diagnosis.
Melissa’s treatment was a lot more extensive, and she fell very ill. Although they had both been diagnosed, there was no mention of the faulty BRCA gene or how this increases the risk of breast and ovarian cancers, and no testing was offered to us.
I couldn’t take the risk of breast cancer
In 2014, a while after her treatment ended, Melissa was referred for genetic testing by her oncologist. It was then that she found out she was BRCA 2 positive.
She sat down with my mum and me and told us that we probably needed testing. We had never heard of BRCA and had no idea what it meant for our family.
I ended up doing a lot of research before I got tested. I decided early on that if I tested positive for an altered BRCA gene, I'd have a double mastectomy, where both breasts are removed. I’d seen first-hand what my mum and Melissa had been through. I couldn’t take the risk.
My younger sister Charlotte and I went for testing. I was 27, and she was 25. When we tested positive, I decided to have a double mastectomy.
I feel lucky to have had a choice
A lot of people told me I was brave for having a double mastectomy, but it would have been scarier and braver not to do it. The risk was so high that the surgery seemed the safest option. I wanted to be proactive.
It’s been the best decision for me. I felt relieved when I woke up after my surgery. I tried not to worry about how I looked. I’d chosen to have a reconstruction with an expander implant. It would be a bit of a waiting game for me, and I knew that the way I looked was temporary.
It was still very strange for the first six weeks – I was pretty flat! It was awful to look at as I had some scarring and it was hard to process at times. I blocked it out and focused on the long-term.
I had my implants gradually expanded over months, and now I think my reconstruction looks great. It’s given me more confidence, as my experience has put a lot of silly issues I had with my body in perspective. I’m still here and feel very lucky that I had this choice before a cancer diagnosis.
In 2016, Melissa was told that she’d had a recurrence. We were terrified. We’d already seen her go through so much.
I want people to know about BRCA
I’m keen to spread awareness about the altered BRCA2 gene and my family’s experience.
In 2015 I competed in Tough Mudder for Breast Cancer Care, to say thank you for the support my mum and half-sister received and the help I was given in making my decision. It was also a great way to let people know about the BRCA2 gene.
I’m so excited that my name is going to be on the Force India car at the US Grand Prix as it’s another opportunity to let people know about my story and be aware of what the BRCA gene is.
I’m a massive racing fan and work as a marketing manager in the automotive industry, so I can’t wait to see my name speeding around a racetrack on TV! My husband is the biggest F1 fan I know, so he’s completely thrilled.
Saying ‘I’m here for you’ is the best thing
It’s so difficult when your loved one is diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it’s important to realise that it’s okay if they’re not okay.
Lots of people try to look on the bright side and try to be positive about what someone is going through. People say, you’re so lucky, you’re such a fighter – but sometimes, it just feels really rubbish.
They just need you to be there for them, and not try to fix it. Just saying ‘I’m here from you’ can be the best thing.
#ShareTheCare this Breast Cancer Awareness Month and help more women like Katie and her family get the support they need by donating today.