Tyrone cousins Yvonne Hendry and Therese O’Gorman, who’ve had double mastectomies, have helped Cancer Focus NI raise £500 for vital breast cancer research by holding a Girls’ Night In.
Yvonne, from Sion Mills, and Therese, from Strabane, both opted to undergo the surgery after they discovered they had the BRCA 2 gene, which gives them an 80% risk of developing the disease.
When Yvonne heard Cancer Focus NI’s call for local women to have a Girls’ Night In for breast cancer research that we’re funding at Queen’s University Belfast, she decided to host her own fundraising party.
“This is a cause that is very close to our hearts,” Yvonne explained. “There has been an awful lot of cancer in our family and if it wasn’t for all the new research developments, we might not be here either.
“We’d encourage all women, and men too, to hold their own night in and raise some cash for the pioneering research funded by this wonderful charity.”
Yvonne (44) and Therese (49) hope that by telling their poignant stories they will encourage women to keep an eye out for the signs of cancer and go to their GP early if they have any worries about their health.
“There has been a lot of cancer in my father Paddy McGrath’s side of the family – he and most of his siblings have died from one cancer or another. I thought there had to be something genetic in the family that made us more susceptible. After my dad passed away in 2010, I had a blood test that confirmed I had BRCA 2,” said Yvonne, who is married to Jimmy and has a six–year–old son, Merle.
“My friends all thought I took the news very well, but I can’t say I was surprised. I had been reading up on BRCA 2 and even before I got the test results I had made the huge decision to have prophylactic surgery on my breasts and ovaries if I had the gene.
“It was a no-brainer – have an 80% risk of cancer or have surgery and reduce it to the same risk as everyone else in the population.”
Yvonne had to wait a year for the surgery to remove her breasts and have implants in August 2012. “As the day got nearer I thought ‘am I really going to do this – remove a part of my body?’ I didn’t need to think for too long. The answer was ‘Yes, I am’,” she said.
“I got over the surgery really well, I was out of hospital in four days and even psychologically I didn’t have any difficulties. My husband and everyone around me were fantastic. It was as though someone was looking over me,” she added.
Yvonne returned to hospital in March last year to have her ovaries removed. “There is a sense of relief to have it all behind me now,” she admitted. “I was so glad I already had my wee boy, who also might have the gene. I didn’t really want any more children, particularly girls, who might have it, though it affects boys too, who are more likely to have prostate cancer.”
She added: “I’m a very up-beat, positive person and I’ve so much to be thankful for. At least I was able to have the surgery – how much worse would it have been if I’d already developed cancer?”
Therese, who is married to Pat and has three children, Leanne (26), Kevin (23) and Bronagh (21), also has the BRCA 2 gene and had a double mastectomy and oophorectomy (ovaries) as a precaution in 2012.
She said: “My sister Mary was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2010 and due to the number of family members on our father’s side that had been affected by cancer, she was advised to have the genetic test and discovered she had BRCA 2. She was told that her siblings should be checked too, which is when I had the test.
“I decided straight away to take action – I already had children and for me it was a straightforward choice. The whole family has been so supportive.
Peace of mind
“I had the mastectomy with Tram Flap Reconstruction (reconstruction using tissue from the tummy area) and oophorectomy in one 10 hour operation – it was worth it for peace of mind.”
Therese added: “I feel really strongly that we should all support research into cancer – so many more people are surviving nowadays thanks to new discoveries. I want my own children and other members of my family to benefit from any new advances so I’m a big supporter of the work that Cancer Focus NI funds at Queen’s.
“By holding a Girls’ Night In for the charity, you support a really worthwhile cause – and have a great evenings fun with your friends and family too, so why not join in?”
If you have any concerns about cancer please call the Cancer Focus NI free helpline on 0800 783 3339 and speak to a specialist nurse.