A cancer survivor has spoken of her decision to delay preventative surgery until after becoming a mother – despite discovering she was at serious risk.
Maura Gilmore – now a proud mother-of-two – was faced with a dilemma in 2009.
Newly married, she discovered she was a carrier of the faulty BRCA2 gene which put her at a high risk of developing breast or ovarian cancer.
Last year, Hollywood star Angelina Jolie who carries the gene, had surgery to reduce her chances of catching the disease.
Maura, from Kircubbin, Co Down, discovered she carried the gene only after her mother, who was adopted, tracked down her birth mother and found it in the family.
Now 38, she was faced with the prospect of having her breasts or ovaries removed. But she made the decision to wait until after she had children – and is now mother to Shay (4) and Cadain (2).
Then last year, the cancer diagnosis she feared was confirmed.
"My mum, Phyllis, was adopted," Maura explained. "She searched for her birth mum a few years back and found her family. She met up with them and a few months later her mum passed away.
"She discovered there was a history of breast cancer in the family and they were BRCA carriers so that is why mum got tested."
Phyllis found she was a carrier so her children were tested.
"I found out I was a carrier, my sister Clare is a carrier and Oliver, one of my four brothers too," Maura added.
Annual MRI scans followed at the Ulster Hospital. "We always talked about the possibility of having preventative surgery done, but I thought 'maybe when I am 40'," Maura said.
"I was still married at that time and hadn't had my children yet, so I didn't want to do anything until that was done."
After having two children, Maura was diagnosed in January 2013 after routine checks picked up a tumour.
The news came shortly after her marriage ended and she had to decide to have a mastectomy.
"The whole world just collapsed," she said about the early stage diagnosis.
"My marriage had split up the previous year, so I was kind of like, '2013 is going to be a good year'. It was pretty tough. Me and the two boys had to move in with my parents. I was on my own and couldn't look after them. They looked after me and the boys." Her surgery was followed by gruelling chemotherapy, followed by the removal of her ovaries as a preventative measure.
Actress Angelina Jolie raised awareness last year when she had both breasts removed after a BRCA2 diagnosis and will also have her ovaries removed.
Bubbly Maura is upbeat about life and planning to run the Cancer Research UK Race For Life fundraiser next month to raise cash for cancer research.
Maura said she feels lucky her cancer was picked up by an MRI and that she sees the Race for Life event at Stormont as a personal challenge and turning point.
"Last year I was right in the middle of chemo so I couldn't do it. I thought to myself I'm going to get myself to a point where I am able to do that," she said.
"There are so many people I know who have unfortunately passed away from cancer I think I am lucky to have had my tumour spotted so soon. So thank God we found out I was a carrier.
"I thought with the cancer, what can I learn from this? I'm much more laid back with the kids and just appreciate time with them."
To enter Race for Life at Stormont Estate on Sunday, June 1 visit race forlife.org or call 0845 600 6050.
The BRCA2 gene discovery in the 90s – helped by funding from Cancer Research UK – led to genetic tests, and drugs designed to target BRCA faults. Around one in 1,000 people carry a fault in a gene, and two in every 100 women with breast cancer have a faulty version of either BRCA1 o r BRCA2. In 1995, Cancer Research UK funding allowed scientists to show that BRCA1 faults were more common in younger women who develop cancer. For more, log on to www.cancerresearchuk.org