East Lancashire BRCA gene mum removes breasts and ovaries

Rachel White in the Blackburn charity shop where she works

Rachel White in the Blackburn charity shop where she works

First published in News This Is Lancashire: Photograph of the Author by

MAKING the decision to have her breasts and ovaries removed was the hardest thing Rachel White has ever done.

Especially as the mother-of-two wasn’t suffering from any form of cancer or illness that needed a prompt reaction to save her life.

The ‘faulty’ BRCA1 gene was prominent in the 42-year-old’s DNA – women who have the gene are at a higher risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer – and she now wants to raise awareness for other women.

“It wasn’t an easy choice to make to have my breasts removed but I knew I wanted my ovaries out,” said Rachel.

In 2008 Rachel’s sister Heather, found out that she had breast cancer and a week later her cousin Rowena was also diagnosed.

Both women battled the disease but Rowena died, aged 30, after the cancer spread.

Rachel, who lives in Blackburn, said: “When she was alive my cousin and my sister were offered genetic testing because of the family connection and discovered that the faulty gene was hereditary.

“The specialists looked back at the family history and discovered that six women in the family had died from ovarian cancer.”

Some women decline the test to detect if there is a mutation in the BRCA1 gene, which means that the growth is unchecked and leads to a rapid spread of cancerous cells.

The chance of Rachel developing breast cancer was about 70 to 80% and she also had a 40 to 60% chance of developing ovarian cancer.

BRCA mutations grabbed national headlines last year when actress Angelina Jolie announced that she carries a mutation of the BRCA1 gene and had undergone a preventive double mastectomy aged 37 to reduce her risk.

She also had her ovaries removed.

Rachel said: “I made the decision to remove my ovaries and my breasts because I couldn’t live with the worry.

“Everything gets magnified and it’s all you think about. My mum suffered from ovarian cancer, but luckily she is all right.”

After her removal and reconstructive surgery, Rachel posed topless for the BRCA Babes calendar in aid of the National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline. She posed as Miss February and now manages the 15th National Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline charity shop in Blackburn town centre.

Women from across the UK appeared in the calendar and it has sparked interest from a Japanese film production company who are in the process of interviewing the women.

Rachel is waiting to be contacted.

Women in countries such as Japan have been alarmed that people in the UK are undergoing surgery, despite not being diagnosed will cancer.

Rachel said: “This is all new to them and the faulty BRCA gene isn’t really recognised over there.

“Because women don’t suffer as much with cancer it is often blamed on diet but I don’t agree.

“I was born with this gene; it’s in my make-up.

“You can’t change the genetics; there was a 50/50 chance that I could have the gene from conception and to say it’s all about diet and lifestyle is utter rubbish.

“It’s not just breast cancer that we have to watch out for it’s other types that need to take into consideration, especially for women who have at least two family members who have been diagnosed.

“You are born with the gene.”

Men are also at risk of getting breast and prostate cancer if they have the faulty BRCA1 gene.

As for Rachel’s two children Zak, 18, and Zoe, 16, plans for any future testing will be left in their hands.

Rachel said: “My daughter is only young and she is concentrating on her exams at the moment so it’s the last thing she wants to think about, and young women can’t get tested until they are 18 anyway.

“But I would say knowledge is power even though some women don’t want to know I don’t regret a thing.”

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