'It felt like I'd been given an early death sentence with my results'
Published 28/03/2014 | 12:00
Hazel Carson (39) teaches PE at Wellington College, Belfast. She is a mother-of-four from Ballynahinch. After her mother found a lump on her breast in 1991 she was diagnosed with cancer. Then, in 1995, her mum developed ovarian cancer and died in 1997 aged 47.
Hazel was diagnosed as having the BRCA1 gene aged 29. Five years later she had both a double mastectomy and an oophorectomy carried out.
"We had no idea that there was a deadly gene in our family, but mum had urged all three of her sisters to go for a mammogram, and in 2001 one of them developed breast cancer," she said.
"It was then that it was suggested we all take a genetic test.
"My aunt, who had developed breast cancer, was told she was BRCA1 positive. The other two were not. The hospital had kept one of my mum's blood samples, and after a genetic test was able to confirm that she, too, had carried the abnormal BRCA1 gene.
"After I had my second child in 2003, when I was 29, I was tested and found out I was BRCA1 positive.
"I remember receiving this result so clearly and feeling like I'd been given an early death sentence."
Ms Carson said she always knew if the result was positive she would opt for a double mastectomy and to have her ovaries removed, once her family was complete.
"As the risk of developing breast cancer was potentially so high (at 85%) I felt the decision had been made for me, as I wanted to give myself the best chance of being there for my family as they grew up," the mother added.
"On January 26, 2009 I had my prophylactic surgery. This involved one operation with a double mastectomy and reconstructive implants during surgery, with a bilateral oophorectomy and hysterectomy (keyhole). I now know that I have done all I can to avoid the cancer developing.
"Hearing about the research, I think it is an exciting development for women with the BRCA1 mutation. They are able to make a choice that is not surgery. It is really allowing women a different option in the future.
"And it is important that women know they don't have to have surgery.
"It will take a few years to develop and a trial will have to happen.
"For some people it is a very difficult and long process to come to the decision of what to do. For others it is a 'no-brainer'.
"Personally for me it was a no-brainer that I opted for surgery – it's easy when you have lived with a loss of a very close loved one. But for other people it could be a much longer process because of the high risk that surgery entails.
"Now with research we can find there are other options so that the generations that are coming through are not faced with potential surgery in their 30s, 40s or 50s."