Saturday 27 December 2014

'I'm 26 and I'm relieved I've had a double mastectomy'

Deirdre Carolan discovered she had a cancer-causing gene.

Celebrity appearances on The Late Late Show are usually happy, bubbly affairs, with stars taking the hotseat to chat contentedly about their latest film or book.

But when Liberty X singer Michelle Heaton appeared in October, it was a different story. The normally happy-go-lucky star was interviewed after she found out she had a gene mutation that gave her an up-to 85pc chance of developing breast cancer.

In the glare of the Donnybrook studio lights, Michelle cried as she told Ryan Tubridy about the trauma of finding out she had the BRCA 2 gene mutation and her decision to have both breasts removed at just 33.

Across the city, in a ward at the Mater Private Hospital, 26-year-old Deirdre Carolan was watching closely. Deirdre understood better than anyone what Michelle was going through: three days beforehand, the young speech therapist from Monasterboice, Co Louth, had had both her breasts removed after finding out that she too had a cancer-causing gene.

"Watching Michelle, I could see she was clearly devastated," says Deirdre. "But for me, I felt nothing but relief that the threat of cancer had lifted."

Deirdre's future is now bright. She has put cancer behind her and is looking forward to a 2013 filled with happy memories – notably, her wedding to fiancé Eoin Bradley next September.

But 2012 has been a gruelling year. Deirdre's ordeal started in March, when she found out she had the BRCA 1 gene mutation, giving her – like Michelle – an up-to 85pc lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, as well as an increased risk of ovarian cancer.

Deirdre already knew breast cancer ran in her mother's family, but it wasn't until she attended a talk at the local hospital that she found out she could take a simple blood test to find out if she had the gene.

Many women are hesitant to find out if they're at risk, but Deirdre felt that the more information she had about her health, the better.

"I wasn't that upset about taking the test. It's such a powerful thing to be able to do – think of all the other illnesses that you can't test for," she says.

Deirdre attended the Mater Private Hospital, where she was told she had the gene and placed on a screening programme, which meant mammograms and MRIs every six months.

But in August, when she was checking her own breasts at home, she found a lump. "That was stressful," she remembers. "You do your breast checks regularly, but you don't actually expect to find anything."

Because she was already in the system, things moved very quickly. The very next day, Deirdre met with an oncologist at the Mater.

At that point, the advice from her doctors, including breast surgeon Malcolm Kell, was that she should go ahead with a double mastectomy.

"That was the worst day," Deirdre recalls. "When Malcolm suggested a double mastectomy, it was just shocking. Immediately I rang my mam and I rang Eoin to talk it through. But by the next day we all decided that it was for the best.

"So we kicked into action mode. My friends were great – we had loads of dinners and coffees and one of the nurses suggested that Eoin and I went away for the weekend, which we did.

Irish Independent

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