'I had a positive mental attitude that this was all about reducing the risk and saving my life'
Published 18/09/2015 | 02:30
The spectre of cancer has hung over the life of businesswoman Róisín Prizeman since the death of her mother Patricia from breast cancer in 1971.
Patricia was just 41 when she passed away shortly before Róisín's fifth birthday.
As the little girl grew up, she became aware that several of her aunts also had cancer - breast and ovarian.
Róisín's sister Edel survived two bouts of breast cancer, and also tested positive for a mutation of the BRCA1 gene - BRCA1 (Breast Cancer 1) and BRCA2 (Breast Cancer 2) are two genes, that, if mutated, greatly increase an individual's chance of developing breast and ovarian cancer.
Róisín signed up for the test herself after hearing Edel's test results.
Edel's positive results had confirmed the sisters' fears about the prevalence of cancer in the family, recalls the mother-of-one from Leopardstown, who, because of her family history, had been undergoing regular six-monthly screenings for several years at the Family Risk Assessment Clinic at St James's Hospital, Dublin.
"After Edel tested positive for a mutation of the BRCA1 gene, I put my name down for the test."
When Róisín, then 44, was tested in August 2011, the results came back positive.
The following November, she had an oophorectomy (removal of the ovaries) and a hysterectomy.
"Afterwards, I went through an aggressive menopause which was quite challenging," she recalls.
However, she says she started running, which helped in terms of fitness and also in giving her a new focus.
"I also had a positive mental attitude that this was all about reducing the risk and saving my life - and that was basically it.
"Going on the family history, I could see my risk was very high - anyone with a mutation of the BRCA1 gene has an 85pc to 90pc risk of breast cancer and a 65pc risk of ovarian cancer, so for me, it was very much about the fact that this had to be done.
"I wasn't ready for the mastectomy though," she recalls, adding that she had also been advised that the oophorectomy would reduce her overall risk of breast cancer.
She tried to forget about the whole thing.
Then, in May 2013 came Angelina Jolie's revelations about her family history of the mutated BRCA1 gene.
Jolie also disclosed the steps she had taken - a double mastectomy and the removal of her ovaries and fallopian tubes - to prevent the onset of cancer.
"It made me think. It kind of hit me hard. I thought 'wow!'
"I'd been trying to push it all to the back of my mind, but once Angelina Jolie came out and went public about it, it forced me to engage with it.
"I don't know Angelina Jolie, but I owe her a debt of gratitude because she raised the profile of the gene and opened the conversation and made people aware of it.
"She shared so much information. It was a really selfless and brave thing to do because up until then, there hadn't been a huge amount in the media about it."
Róisín realised that time was marching on: " I was now in my 40s. My mother had died at 41 and my sister had had breast cancer at 40 and 42.
"It felt like it was hanging over me, and there was always the fear that something would show up in the next scan."
In December 2013, she had a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction at St James's Hospital.
"Muscle and skin was removed from my back as part of the reconstruction and I had both operations on the same day.
"They did a huge job, and I have no scarring on my breasts.
"I am hugely grateful to St James's Hospital for the care I received," says Prizeman, who is currently working with the hospital to set up a BRCA Support Group.
Her recovery was rapid, she says - but then, as she points out, she was extremely healthy going into surgery.
"It's very different for a healthy body having surgery than it would be for someone who has cancer and is going through it, so my recovery was very good."
Two months after surgery, she ran a half-marathon in Paris.
"I am a very strong person, and I had a great team in my corner.
"My partner and daughter were 100pc behind me every step of the way, which was an essential part of my recovery. They loved me back to health.
"I cannot believe how aesthetically good the work is.
"I feel very lucky that I live in a country where you can have the test to discover if you have the gene, and in a country where the surgery and the right care is available."