When Laura Kyle from Limavady heard Hollywood A-Lister, Angelina Jolie, had undergone a double mastectomy after finding out she had a mutation in a gene known as BRCA1, she thought the actress had made a brave decision.
The 36-years-old accounting technician only knew what she’d read in the paper about the cancer gene.
“I remember thinking ‘that’s a really brave decision to make, I wonder how she feels about it’, but I never really thought about it until it came to my door,” she said.
However, that was set to change dramatically.
Laura’s dad had tested positive for the cancer gene in the summer of 2016. After telling Laura and her sisters, they went to their GPs and were referred on for an appointment.
Laura found out in the New Year she had inherited the cancer gene which means she has an 80 per cent chance of breast cancer and a 30-50 per cent chance of ovarian cancer.
“I was heartbroken when I got the news on January 4th. I had a cry to myself and talked to my husband Pete. I felt like a time bomb. I thought, what if it’s already started, what if it’s too late?” said Laura.
“I had an MRI Scan on Valentine’s Day and I found out last week it came back clear, so that was a relief, but I kept thinking with the family history, wait to you see, it’ll come back.”
Laura said as soon as she had received the result she’d made her mind up to have a double mastectomy.
“I have two boys and they’re my life. If I didn’t have my boys I don’t know if the decision would have been any different, but once you have children that was it. I want to see them grow up. I can live without my breasts, but my children can’t live without me.”
Laura’s cousin, Cora Hegarty, aged 43, tested positive for BRCA1 and is also having a double mastectomy.
“Cora has the same attitude as me, that it’s about making your life better. This won’t take away all our risk of breast cancer but it reduces it greatly so if I do get cancer in the future, I can say I did everything possible to stop it for my boys,” said Laura.
Laura said she’s looking to the future as Queen’s University, Belfast, is conducting research into BRCA1, but there is still so much unknown.
She wants to fundraise and hopes in years to come, for those who test positive for the gene, surgery won’t be the only option.
“The only options now are breast screening, which detects it but it doesn’t prevent it, or surgery. It’s a no-brainer,” insisted Laura who is determined to raise awareness about the gene.
“When you see all the females in my family that have been tested and have had the gene and have had cancer in their thirties and forties, I don’t want that.”
Laura has to decide on the best surgery for her before she gets a date.
“I’ve heard stories of women who can’t even dress themselves, who feel like they’ve lost their womanhood.
“To me, it’s a set of breasts and this is not going to change the fundamental person I am.
“If it does change me it will be to make me stronger because it’s taken me past vanity and made me realise it’s the person inside that matters.
“If I can deal with this I can deal with anything.”
Laura admits she’s terrified about the surgery “but I’m not scared about losing my breasts, that doesn’t scare me.”
Laura revealed once she recovers from the surgery, she will still be left with a 50 per cent chance of ovarian cancer and faces further surgery to remove her ovaries or have a full hysterectomy.
“I just want people to know this is a positive choice. Ten years ago we wouldn’t have had this test.”
Laura credits her husband, Pete, and her sisters for helping her cope.
“Pete and I had discussed it at length and he said ‘look I am here to support you no matter what’,” continued Laura, who revealed her sisters have also been tested.
“That was bittersweet. I was so happy for my two sisters, Lindsay and Lisa, to get the all-clear but, for a second, it was ‘why me?’ and I’m sure it was difficult for them to ring me as well to give me the news they were clear, but they’ve been fantastic.
“They’ve been very supportive.”
Laura and her cousin, Cora, are determined to maintain a positive outlook and tomorrow (March 4th) they’re having a ‘Goodbye to My Bits’ party!
“All the girls from the family are coming to the party in Derry,” said Laura.
“We’re having a disco and a boob cake and moulding kits to take moulds of our breasts so we will always have them, and that’s it.
“It’s just to get together and support each other.”
Laura said her work colleagues and her church have been a great support.
“Pete and I are Christians and we attend Limavady Methodist Church. We have a very deep faith and the church has been amazing.”
Laura hopes by sharing her experience she will raise awareness about the BRCA1 gene, and that other women will benefit.
“I want to let any women out there, who may be going through, or have to go through the same thing in the future, that it’s okay to be okay with this and, if they feel that they aren’t coping with surgery, then I am here to talk to and to cry with.
“If I can help even one person get through their difficult time by sharing my story, then that’s brilliant.”
Laura said anyone who would like to talk with her in private can do so by emailing her at firstname.lastname@example.org
For further information visit brcani.co.uk