Louise Wright says she owes her life to her Aunt Tizzy.
In October 2015 Tizzy was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. Her mother Mercy Hoare died of breast cancer some 60 years earlier aged just 48.
Her four daughters had always been concerned about the possibility of a genetic link, but when Tizzy was diagnosed her sisters Rosie, 67, Jenny, 70 and Paddy, 71, they decided to get tested for the BRCA gene.
Hotel sales and marketing director Louise, 40, from Leeds, said: “We all knew following Aunt Tizzy’s diagnosis that we needed the gene test but I was married, had a high-flying career and two wonderful sons George and Jack who were just eight and six.
“Everything was great, there was no way on earth I could have cancer?”
But Louise’s mother and her aunt Jenny took the test and the results came back positive for the genetic mutation, putting them at high risk of developing breast and ovarian cancer. Louise was then tested and was also found to be carrying the gene. Louise instantly opted to undergo preventative surgery.
“It was devastating news but I didn’t give it a second thought. My boys needed me more than I needed my boobs so having them removed was a complete no-brainer.”
But ahead of her planned operation, an MRI showed Louise had a highly aggressive grade three tumour.
“It was so deep there had been no tell-tale lump or other symptoms, but my life was in serious danger.”
Just days later her mother Rosie telephoned from her home in Hertfordshire to say she too had been diagnosed with cancer.
That cancer was in her ovaries and was also discovered during preparation for precautionary surgery. Jenny too was found to have ovarian cancer. Only eldest sibling Paddy escaped.
“Inside eight weeks me, my mum and two aunts had gone from all living busy normal lives to being confined to hospital beds.
“But if it hadn’t been for Tizzy we might never have known we had cancer. She saved our lifes. I took part in the Leeds 10k for Gibralter Cancer Relief after Tizzy was diagnosed, having no idea that I too had cancer.”
Having already lost her hair to 12 gruelling bouts of chemotherapy, Louise had surgery for a double mastectomy and ovary removal at St James’ Hospital in Leeds. But as she recovered from reconstructive surgery she developed a severe infection resulting in her being admitted into intensive care. Doctors saved her life but as she slowly recuperated she suffered a fresh blow when her marriage ended. She is now in remission and her worry is that her sons, George ten and Jack eight, may be carrying the gene and could potentially pass it on to any daughters.
“Me, mum and Aunt Jenny are all in remission while Aunt Tizzy is having chemotherapy but will have to live with her disease. The boys will need to be tested when they are old enough. My brother doesn’t carry the gene which is great as he has daughters.”
Louise and her aunts and mum are now raising awarness of the BRCA gene and the need for families to share their medical history.
“I didn’t know anything about BRCA before this. I’d read about Angelina Jolie but didn’t ever think that would happen to me. We want people who have two or three members of their family with a history of breast or ovarian cancer to get their GP to get tested.
“I have had six operations and 12 sessions of chemotherapy which must run into hundreds of thousands of pounds, the test would be far cheaper so it makes sense to the NHS, too. If Aunt Tizzy had not found her cancer when she did, then none of us would have been tested.”
Louise and three other mums from her sons’ school have organised fundraising event Jog on Cancer in Horsforth on Sunday for Yorkshire Cancer Care.
“The treatment and support I got at the Bexley Wing was amazing, When I fell ill I the nurses and the surgeon went above and beyond. I want people to know that you can get through this.
“I am a very straight up determined person, and we did tackle it through humour and positivity, but I didn’t have much choice, I had my boys and a full-time job, but keeping busy also helped.”
To support or sign-up, go to www.justgiving.com/fundraising/jogoncancerhorsforth
One in 400 will carry a BRCA mutation although this figure is significantly higher for certain backgrounds, such as Ashkenazi Jewish and Scandinavian.
BRCA gene mutations greatly raise the risk of ovarian, breast, prostate and other cancers. If you know you carry a mutation, you can take steps to prevent getting them. Ovarian Cancer Action has developed a hereditary cancer risk assessment. ovarian.org.uk/risktool/