BRCA mum calls for support for breast cancer research
Ciara McKenna (31), a receptionist from Armagh, is married to Michael (35) and they have four boys, Kian (7), Ryan (5), Marc (4) and Ethan (five months). Ciara and her sister Siobhan Conlon (29), who is expecting her first baby, both have BRCA 1.
Ciara is now planning to have a double mastectomy and her ovaries removed as a preventative measure. She stresses how vital it is for the public to support Cancer Focus NI’s In Pink campaign to fund more research. She says:
“I inherited the BRCA 1 mutant gene from my father, who died in a car crash when I was three and he was just 21.
About four years ago his sister explained about BRCA to Siobhan and me after she discovered she was positive and we went together to have our blood tested. I’d already decided that if it was positive I would have the surgery. To put your family, your children through losing you is unthinkable.
At the same time we both thought, what are the chances? Although we were aware that we had a 50/50 chance of being positive, we were really doing it so that we’d be eliminated and move on with our lives. We were both very shocked at the result.
Michael and I already had three boys but it was very important to us to finish our family before I went ahead with surgery. Before I was expecting Ethan I went for regular MRI scans and check-ups to keep an eye on things, but we were against the clock.
While a little girl would have been lovely, I was relieved and thrilled to have another boy. If our boys are carriers I feel I don’t have to worry quite as much about their health. Men can be at greater risk of breast cancer and prostate cancer because of the gene but it isn’t as risky for them as for women. It makes me feel a little less guilty that I may have passed the gene on to them.
You never know how things will change over the years. Hopefully by the time my boys are having families there will be many new developments that could perhaps eliminate the gene or stop it causing cancer.
Since learning I am BRCA1 positive, every bump and lump I find fills me with dread. One time I thought I’d spotted dimpling on my breast and flew into a panic. It turned out just to be stretch marks, but I suffered a great deal of stress and worry over something so simple.
The worry in your head is unbelievable. It takes over your life, and that’s no exaggeration. I don’t want BRCA to have that power over me, I want to control it. Advances in medical technology allow me to take control, and I feel that surgery is the best way forward for me.
Now I’m a few years down the line, I still think about it every day but I can say that it no longer consumes my life and, though I know I have a tough time ahead, I think of the goal and I am now ready to take the necessary steps.
It’s because of fundraising for charities like cancer Focus NI that researchers can do their amazing work and give people like me the options that we have. I am very optimistic that in the future there will be many more wonderful developments too, so I’d urge everyone to get on board and do their bit for the Cancer Focus NI PINK fundraising and awareness campaign.
The more people who know about BRCA the more lives will be saved. Cancer Focus NI is not only saving lives now but also creating hope for our future generations.”
Read Julie, Debra and Joanne’s personal stories here.