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Beth West: "In a way I have been given a golden ticket"

06 February 2020

Beth West

After her mother was diagnosed with ovarian cancer, Beth discovered that she and her sister carry the BRCA2 gene mutation, increasing their chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer. She shares her story.

“It all started when my lovely mum got diagnosed with ovarian cancer in March 2018. She was a legend and took the news so well.

On one of her visits with her specialist, he mentioned that her cancer may have been genetic and explained about BRCA gene mutations.

On hearing this news I spoke to my local GP to see what needed to be done, and was referred to a genetics clinic.  Before the appointment there was a lot of form filling and family tree dissecting.

The day of my appointment arrived, and I met the geneticist called Stephanie. She went through all our history, the likelihood of me having the mutation and what would happen next.  I left with a head full of information and a little disappointed about how long it would take. But Stephanie was so lovely and calm and she gave me her contact details in case I had any questions

The first step was my mum being tested for the gene mutation, which called for a slightly awkward conversation: “I know you have cancer and are really busy with treatment etc. but could you possibly also ask your doctor to take some of your blood and test you for these mutant genes?”

My awesome mum went straight to get tested but was told that it would be at least three months for the results.

In December 2018 she went to the specialist and was told the amazing news that she was now cancer-free — she has throat punched the horrible disgusting disease back to the dark slimy hole it crawled out from. But…she does have the BRCA2 gene mutation, which gives her a 30-40% chance of getting breast cancer.  

This means my sister and I had a 50% chance of having inherited this gene mutation.

Within 30 minutes of my mum receiving the news, I received a call from the geneticist. I decided to go to this appointment alone as I thought it would just be a case of having a simple blood test and leaving. Wrong. In fact, it was even more information about what the options were and the risks they entailed. Information overload!

After my blood test, she told me it would be about three months before I would get the results, which again was nerve-wracking to have it hanging over me for so long. 

Let’s just say I ran a lot over the Christmas period to try and clear my head.

Fast forward to only four weeks later and the phone rings.  I could tell from the minute she started speaking what she was going to say (she should not play poker) but she was so sweet and said that she wished I hadn’t opted for results over the phone.  I said “I take it I have the BRCA2 mutation?”

I thought I would be OK but as soon as she said “Yes” everything stopped, and I could feel myself welling up. 

When I put the phone down, I went to ring my sister and have a cry. But the next morning I woke up and thought “Nope, this isn’t going to consume me.” In a way I have been given a golden ticket. I now know that I have a very high risk of getting breast or ovarian cancer, but I can do something about it.  

I rang the geneticist and said I wanted to go ahead with the risk-reducing surgeries. My son is only five and as a single mum, it’s my job to make sure I’m around. 

"Looking back I think I was slightly naive in my expectations of what the recovery would be like."

Beth West

When I went for my pre-surgery appointment, I went in there with positive vibes, I felt I knew what I wanted and how it was going to go…

The lady I saw could not have been sweeter and spent a whole hour with me and answered everything I asked and didn’t rush me at all. But the reality of it all hit and the fact that I didn’t realise the risks that came with it and what could go wrong. I smiled all the way through as I would rather pull my fingernails out than cry in public. 

The next day I crumbled, which is something I never do.  I decided it was time to practice what I preach and talk to someone. I rang my best friend and just downloaded everything. I think she was relieved that I was finally realising the size of it all and being realistic about my feelings.

Then the final blow of this whole situation my lovely sister got the news that she too has the stupid gene mutation. I would have done anything for her not to have this, but it does feel like we are fighting something together and gives me the strength I need.

The double mastectomy is now done, the results are good and I’m happy, although not yet totally healed — due to some complications this may take a while.  Looking back I think I was slightly naive in my expectations of what the recovery would be like. 

I am in awe of the NHS and the speed and efficiency with which this has been handled.  I was also amazed by the staff at the hospital — they are the most friendly, helpful, empathetic people I have ever met.  Nothing is too much for them.  Including the wonderful surgeons and the night nurse who sat with me my first night in the hospital when I lost my marbles and just needed someone to talk to. We are so lucky to have the NHS!

After the surgery, I was at the hospital a lot due to wound issues.  I was then rushed to A&E with sepsis and had to have one of the implants removed.  It is not the best result I wanted but do I regret my decision?  100% NO.  Again and again I feel I have to keep repeating to people — it is not cancer.

I have also had the great opportunity to help other organisations with their studies including Cambridge University, and with raising the awareness of BRCA gene mutations. Since my work with them a number of people I know have received a positive BRCA result and say that me having it already and documenting my process has really help them.”

Concerned about your family history of cancer? Our Hereditary Cancer Risk Tool will assess your risk of having inherited a genetic mutation that could increase your risk of developing certain cancers. It's suitable for both men and women. All you need is a few minutes and some information about your family history of cancer.