In 2015, at the age of 26, Charley Wood had a preventative double mastectomy. With her mum sadly passing away when she was 17 due to ovarian cancer, Charley decided to get tested for the BRCA1 gene. When she tested positive, she knew she was at risk of developing ovarian and breast cancer. She decided to take preventative measures to stop the ovarian and breast cancer from developing, taking control and reducing her risk significantly.
Following her mastectomy, Charley decided to start a blog to raise awareness and support those discovering they have the ovarian and breast cancer gene mutation.
Charley set up Drain Dollies, a company that produces convenient bags to hold drain bags post-surgery to aid a patient’s recovery and comfort. Inspired to help support others, Charley has made the bags available to people all over the world, with a percentage of the proceeds funding vital research here at Prevent Breast Cancer.
What inspired you to get tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation?
“Having lost my mum at only 17 years of age, the devastation hit me hard at a time in life when I needed her the most. As I grew up and learnt about the BRCA1 mutation, I began to realise that by taking preventative measures to stop the ovarian and breast cancer from starting in the first place, I could save my own life. Having lost so many relatives to ovarian and breast cancer, I knew just how real the risks were and couldn’t bear to live my life in fear of whether I would get cancer. I just wish that there was much more awareness about this gene. If preventative measures were highlighted more, then my mum could still be alive.”
Once you found out you’d tested positive, how did you make the decision to have a double mastectomy?
“The decision was very easy for me and made instantly. Being given the chance to prevent getting breast cancer was such a gift I will always be grateful for. I didn’t feel attached to my breasts and let no emotions or physical reasons get in the way of my decision to control my destiny. It was a no-brainer.”
What advice would you give to someone going through something similar?
“I would always tell someone not to panic and that knowledge is power. I would chat to them about their results, offer a shoulder to cry on and inform them about the various support networks around. If someone doesn’t want to go down the surgery route, which isn’t for everyone, then regular screening is a good option. I always advise people to do their research into surgeons and reconstruction options. It is a long process from start to finish, therefore being clued up means you can progress through each stage without difficulty.”
How have your experiences changed your attitude towards your future?
“My journey so far has taught me how precious life is and to live for today. My experience has given me another purpose and that is to raise awareness and to support and offer advice to women in my position. Through speaking to women over the last year about my positive experience, I have given them the confidence to have risk-reducing surgery, which before they were too frightened to do. This could have saved these ladies’ lives, and I hope to continue to help women in this way in the future.”
Why is Prevent Breast Cancer’s ultimate goal so important to you?
“If breast cancer were to be prevented, fewer families would be devastated by the loss of loved ones. More children will grow up with a mum to attend parents evening and see them walk down the aisle. Fewer women will have to go through gruelling cancer treatments and, instead, they’ll be allowed to live a long and healthy life, without having it robbed from them by this horrible illness.”
What are Drain Dollies? What inspired you to set the company up?
“Following breast cancer surgery, drains are in place for up to a few weeks and are difficult to manage and unsightly. After my double mastectomy, I really struggled getting around with my drains as I was frightened of catching the tube which was stitched into my side. I came up with the idea of a special lightweight bag to carry, contain and conceal surgical drains and decided to call them Drain Dollies.
Using the bags meant that I could have the use of my hands back, as well as my dignity. I had the confidence to walk down to the shop for fresh air and have visitors over for company. My Drain Dollies meant I had a bit more independence and could make a drink for myself, brush my teeth and do my physiotherapy exercises without needing that extra pair of hands.
The help they gave me inspired me to make these available to women all over the world going through breast cancer surgery while, raising money for a charity striving for a breast cancer-free future. So far, they have gone to countries as far as America, Australia, Italy, France, Iceland and Canada, to name a few!”