After her mother was diagnosed with cancer three times, Rebecca discovered she and her brother carried the BRCA1 gene fault, increasing their chances of developing it too. Rebecca had a preventive double mastectomy aged 26 to reduce her risk of breast cancer and is now considering a hysterectomy to reduce her risk of developing ovarian cancer.
“When my mum was first diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35, my grandmother was going through treatment for ovarian cancer at the same time. I was 11, and I found it quite difficult to understand what was going on, but thankfully after Mum’s treatment, she got the all-clear. Then, 10 years later, when I was pregnant with my first daughter, Mum was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. That was a shock, and it was then that we thought, ‘actually, is this something that runs in our family?’ With our Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, we were ten times as likely to carry a BRCA fault than the general population.
At that point, I didn’t really want to think about it too much, because I was having a baby and just wanted to get on with my life, but it did scare me. Then Mum got breast cancer again. When she found out she had the BRCA1 gene fault, I think I was so terrified that I didn’t want to understand it. I felt knowing if I had the fault myself would mean that potentially I’d have to take action quite quickly, so it did take me about three years to come around to the idea of having genetic testing.
"I had to find out for my daughter"Rebecca Nutley
In the end I decided to get tested because I realised the implications — not just for me, but for my family too. My mum had been 35 when she was first diagnosed with breast cancer. It was really hard to think, if I ever got diagnosed with cancer and I had to go through what I saw Mum go through...that thought really scared me. But as a mother myself, I realised that whether I found out or not, the fault was going to be there anyway. I had to find out for my daughter.
I was actually at work when I got the phone call from the genetic counsellor to tell me I was also BRCA1 positive. I burst out crying. I do remember ringing Mum, and she was also incredibly upset to know that both my brother and I actually had the fault, when we had each faced a 50% chance of inheriting it.
I knew what I had to do though, and about seven months later went ahead with a preventive double mastectomy to reduce my risk of breast cancer. One of the hardest parts was after the operation, as a mother of a young child, having to not act like a mother — I had to sit back and relax in order to recover. As I started getting better, I began to accept myself and enjoy life. Six months later, I was on a skiing trip and giving advice to other women considering preventive surgery.
Next I will be considering having my ovaries removed to reduce my risk of ovarian cancer. It has changed my life for the better in a way — knowing that I have the fault now, because Mum decided to get tested, has hopefully saved my daughter from seeing me go through cancer. I’ve given myself the best chance, so I can’t do more than that. I now have this knowledge that I can pass onto my family and give myself and my children the lives that we deserve.”
To find out more about genetic fault, visit our BRCA Hub.