Belfast Telegraph

Wednesday 1 October 2014

'Four of my sisters and I had double mastectomy'

Caroline McErlean (front) with (from left) her mum Kathleen Conlon and sisters Theresa, Bernie and Bronagh

Caroline McErlean (50) lives in Strangford. Seven out of eight of her siblings are BRCA1 carriers – including her brother.

After being diagnosed as having the gene she was one of five sisters who had a double mastectomy.

Caroline, a mother-of-four, also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

"I was part of a family with the unfortunate statistic that six out of seven of us (sisters) was carrying the BRCA1 gene.

"I found out when the second of my sisters was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2007.

"She was advised to get checked for the BRCA1 and came back positive, and then they said we would recommend the rest of your family getting tested – so one by one we fell.

"We were in the position that we all had our families and that this was the safest way forward.

"With my sister's harrowing experience of the treatment for the cancer, it was a relatively easy thing to go ahead with.

"So it is all comparatives, and at that time it was a significant lesser of two evils.

"Without a doubt it was the right step. Because it is an extremely aggressive cancer and you don't want to wake up every morning and think will today be the day?

"Having had the surgery, I was able to park it entirely – stop it.

"I don't mull it over in the head and think why me? Why us? We had a choice and I'm thankful for that. We were in great care in Belfast. I don't do any more dwelling on it, because there is no point.

"Our gene came through us by our father.

"And I think this research is a great step forward. It is very, very encouraging. Surgery is 'cold turkey' menopause.

"But surgery isn't appropriate for our next generation and that is why I am particularly welcoming it. When it broke (the news of the diagnoses) for us we all had our children.

"We didn't have it hanging over us in relation to any sense of urgency in choosing our partners or having children. They (the next generation) will have it hanging over them.

"They will be thinking 'my biological clock is ticking, I should be considering when I could have this surgery to keep myself safe'.

"Whether they verbalise that or not, it builds up in their mind," she added. "In the future this could give easier options and it is a very positive thing – we are always quietly optimistic that things will get better."

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