A healthy 23-year-old woman had a double mastectomy after both her mother and grandfather died following a battle with breast cancer.
Fiona Luscombe had elective surgery to remove both breasts after discovering she had the hereditary BRCA2 cancer gene.
The abnormal gene is passed from parent to child and caused Fiona’s mother, Brenda, and grandfather, Frank, to develop breast cancer.
Doctors told Fiona, who is engaged, she had the gene last year – but said they would not know anymore until further scans when she turned 30.
But rather than wait until she might be diagnosed later in life she decided to have both breasts removed as a precaution.
She discovered she had BRCA2 in October 2011 – a year after her sister Jenny had been told she did not have the cancer gene.
Nursery teacher Fiona, of Plymouth, Devon, said: “They talked me through the process, took my blood, and I received the results a month later.
“I was devastated, totally gutted and it took a long time to get my head around it. As soon as I got the test through I couldn’t sit on it.
“Even though I have the gene I wouldn’t be scanned until I was 30 and I couldn’t wait that long.
“After I got the result I think I was traumatised but then I became really focused.
“I’ve grown up with cancer really. I think it’s harder mentally than I thought it would be but I couldn’t sit on it, I had to sort myself out.”
Fiona was aged just three when mum Brenda was diagnosed with breast cancer which she later recovered from.
But it returned 13 years later in her lymph nodes, liver and then in her bones and Brenda died of liver cancer in August 2007, when Fiona was just 17 years old.
Fiona said: “I didn’t understand the full extent of it when I was younger but when it came back mum was given six months to live and that was true to the day.
“She was very organised. She arranged her own funeral, and she helped us to get through it. Her dad had breast cancer as well.
“Mum had it when she was 32 years old. I’m 23, I just couldn’t risk it.”
Fiona underwent the double mastectomy at St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle, Cornwall, nine weeks ago.
She said: “It went really well but it was really daunting. Both breasts were removed at the same time. They removed all the tissue and put the implants in.
“I’m engaged and it has been a challenge.”
Fiona has been with her fiance, Chris, for seven years and now they are looking forward to their future together.
She said: “He doesn’t talk much about it, if I’m happy with it then he’s happy with it. He was with me when my mum died so he understands. He’s had to do everything for me though. It hasn’t been easy.”
Fiona works as a room leader at City College Plymouth Nursery where she looks after youngsters aged up to 2 years old.
She said: “They say it takes six months to recover fully so I’m going back to work in January.
“It would be too hard before that because I can’t lift the children which is a large part of my job,”
Fiona is now using her brave decision as a way of raising awareness for others who face hereditary breast cancers.
She said: “I’m trying to raise awareness for people with hereditary breast cancer and the National Breast Cancer Hereditary Helpline because it’s not very well known.
“I’m trying to do all I can by handing out leaflets and giving people the opportunity to speak to someone who has had their breasts removed and been through it.”
BRCA1 and BRCA2 are genes that have been shown to play a role in hereditary breast and ovarian cancer.
People with a strong family history of some cancers are invited to have more regular screening than people who don’t seem at increased risk.
Breast cancer is often thought of as a condition that only affects women, but men – like Fiona’s grandfather Frank – can develop it.
Breast cancer affects one man in every 100,000 in England.
It is estimated that around 300 new cases of breast cancer in men are diagnosed each year in England. The average age of diagnosis is 71.
Fiona Luscombe’s grandfather Frank Ross was diagnosed with cancer of the left breast in his 70s.
He had a successful operation but died, suffering from several health issues, when he was 86.
Fiona, who was 18 when he passed away, said: “I don’t remember much about when he was diagnosed.
“After he had an operation I remember asking him why his left side looked different to his right. It’s unusual – only one in 100,000 men in England are affected by breast cancer.”
Her mum, Brenda, a primary school classroom assistant, died aged 48.
Fiona said there was ”never any doubt in her mind” about what she would do if the test for the gene mutation was positive.
She said she had already spoken to her fiancé Chris Warn, a window cleaner, about the operation before she took the test.
Fiona said: “He was around when my mum died as well and so he knew about my family.
He was very supportive – just saying ‘I’m happy as long as you’re happy’.”
Fiona’s father, Malcolm Luscombe, 63, retired from his fire officer job when Brenda was diagnosed and said he was “very proud” of his daughter.
He said: “I think the hereditary problem goes back beyond her grandfather. It was a shock when he was diagnosed and just goes to show men can get it too.
“It was big decision for Fiona to have this operation – a big step. I’m proud of her for being brave enough to go through with it.”
He said that Fiona’s sister Jenny, 26, had come back to the UK from Spain, where she is a teacher, to look after her.
Fiona has now agreed to be the Devon representative for National Breast Cancer Hereditary Helpline.
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