This week’s inspirational breast cancer story comes from Sarah Saphier, whose experience with breast cancer is an extremely rare one. Sarah is a huge supporter of Prevent Breast Cancer and, having children herself, is keen to protect future generations from the disease.
When Sarah found out that she had the mutated BRCA1 gene, which increases your risk of breast and ovarian cancer, she wanted to take precautionary measures. After having her two children, Sarah decided to have her ovaries removed and also underwent a double mastectomy. Tragically, breast cancer later developed in the very little remaining tissue. Of course, this is very rare – those with BRCA1 who have a full double mastectomy reduce their risk of developing breast cancer to just four per cent.
Thankfully, after further treatment, Sarah got the all clear and is now passionate in her support of our work to create a breast cancer-free future.
When you initially found out that you had the BRCA1 gene mutation, and therefore a high risk of developing breast cancer, how easy was it to make the decision to have risk-reducing surgery? What factors did you consider?
“When I first got tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation, I was four months pregnant with my second baby, and always thought that I’d test positive. Maybe that was just a coping mechanism and my way of preparing myself to deal with the possibility that I might test positive. I’d so strongly convinced myself of the outcome that I think I’d have been more shocked if I’d tested negative.
I’d already thought long and hard about what I would do and there was no doubt in my mind about my choice. I absolutely wanted my ovaries and my breasts removed. I’d already seen my mum go through breast cancer and everything that goes with it on top of surgery, including chemotherapy and radiotherapy. It was a very hard time for our family and I didn’t want to put my husband and children through the same thing – or risk them losing me altogether.”
How did you react to the news that, following your preventative mastectomy, cancer had developed in the remaining tissue? Were you aware that was a possibility?
“I always knew there was a risk that I could still get breast cancer, but the risk was so small that I never thought for one minute that it would actually happen. When I first had my breasts removed, I asked the question: has anybody ever gone on to develop breast cancer after having preventative surgery? The answer was no and that only time would tell, because back then it was fairly early days and it was a relatively new procedure. As you can imagine, when I found a lump I got the shock of my life, and the diagnosis was just devastating.”
As a mother, how important is it to protect future generations?
“As a mum, protecting my boys from this disease is very important but, as males, they’re not at such a high risk as girls would be. Saying that, I’ve always been open and honest with them and they do know all about the gene and the risk to their daughters, should they have girls in the future.”
What would your advice be to other women discovering they are at high risk of developing breast cancer?
“If somebody were to tell me that they had one of the BRCA gene mutations and were therefore at high risk of developing the disease, I would have to say it’s a very personal choice but, with the experience I’ve gone through, I’d say you should seriously consider having the surgery. Going through chemo is the hardest thing I’ve ever done and I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. The last thing anyone wants is a battle with cancer, but the important research that Prevent Breast Cancer is doing gives me hope that it will become a thing of the past.”