Sam Turner was told she was too young to be tested for the hereditary breast cancer gene – then just months later she was diagnosed with one of the most aggressive forms of the killer disease.
She was only 30 when the lump appeared. Her daughter Emma had just turned two.
The young mum thought she had just months to live but after a brave battle, years of drugs, treatment, hair-loss and heartache, she was declared cancer-free.
The inherited breast cancer gene fault BRCA, discovered after she was diagnosed, means Sam had an 80 per cent chance of breast cancer and 50 per cent chance of ovarian cancer.
The gene runs down Sam’s dad Graham’s side of the family and she has already lost far too many relatives to cancer.
Sam was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007, completed her treatment in August 2008, had her ovaries removed in February 2009 and now faces a double mastectomy in July.
“You think it is all over but you have got to keep going,” she said. “I had asked for the BRCA test a year before I was diagnosed because so many of my relatives have had breast cancer but they wouldn’t do it because it is so expensive.
“When I knew I had to have chemotherapy and the operation I asked then if they’d remove my breasts but they said it wasn’t advisable because my body was so weak from all the treatment.
“Since then I have had my doubts about having it done but I don’t think I could cope with fighting cancer again.”
Sam’s cousin Helen Gill had a double mastectomy and hysterectomy in 2008 in a bid to avoid the disease.
Despite suffering problems which meant her implants had to be replaced twice – meaning a total of four operations – Helen is in no doubt she has done the right thing.
It means her odds have been cut to just seven per cent for breast cancer and virtually nil for ovarian cancer.
“I decided before I got the results of the BRCA test that I was having it done because I wasn’t going through what Sam and other relatives had to go through,” Helen said.
“I felt strong enough to deal with something like that but not strong enough to wait until I got cancer and then go through that.
“Hopefully now this is it. I don’t think it has made that much difference to me except I can buy cheaper bras now.
“I don’t even think about it any more and it was definitely worth it.
“Now it is not a major issue to me but it was before.”
Sam will have both breasts removed and rebuilt using tissue from her back and side during an operation expected to last around 10 hours. Then she will have to spend around 10 days in hospital before weeks of recuperation at home.
She has years of experience of putting on a brave face and says that, compared to what she has already been through, the outcome is worth the pain.
But she has good and bad days – and struggles to hold back the tears when she thinks about the impact on her daughter.
“The thing I am dreading most is leaving Emma. I really don’t know how to explain it all to her and make sure she is ok.
“What keeps me going is knowing that I won’t get ill again and making sure I am here with Emma long term.
“I am getting to the point where I am thinking about it all day.
“I am getting myself really wound up about it but it is impossible not to.
“It helps knowing Helen has already come through it, but I am still wondering if I am going to get ill again.
“I just want to get it over with and keep carrying on with my life.
“I have got things to do.”
I am writing this diary so everyone realises they are not the only ones in this position
Sam is due to have her operation on July 2. She will be writing a weekly diary in The Star talking through her feelings in the run-up to it and after.
She has praised celebrities such as Angelina Jolie and Sharon Osborne for speaking out about their own operations.
Sam also hopes to challenge the many misconceptions people have about women who willingly opt to have a double mastectomy, make the journey easier for others and do all she can in the fight to change the future for the daughters of all those with the BRCA gene:
“I am writing this diary so everyone realises they are not the only one. It seems like such a small percentage of people who have this gene it is really easy to think it is just your family but when you look around there are lots of people.
“The hospital has been brilliant and the consultants and the nurses – they tell you everything you want to know.
“With the cancer you can find information everywhere but when it is a preventative operation there is not as much information around.
“As I write this I am on my countdown to the holiday – only one day left at work.
“I can’t wait for perfect family time in the sun. All I need to do is try and put the operation out of my mind until we get back and then I have to tell Emma.
“I keep going over it in my head – what to say, how to tell her without getting upset so she doesn’t think that there is anything to worry about.
“I really don’t know how or what to say but if I put the operation off any longer I might not be around to see her grow up.
“I’ve managed to fight the cancer once but don’t think I’m strong enough to do it again so there’s no real choice.
“Well, that’s a problem for when we get back. I just need to convince myself to stop thinking about it and get on with the holiday and look forward to spending all that time together.
“One thing I am worried about is how will I be able to get comfortable and sleep? I won’t be able to sleep on my front but then not on my back because of the muscle being taken from my back. Note to self: Ask the nurse when I next see them – sure they will have an answer!
“I’ve finished packing for the holiday and that made me think what do I need in my hospital bag!
“I can’t get away from it now, my mind seems to link everything back to the operation.
“I just wish it was done and I was back home.”