Losing her mother to cancer was one of the hardest things Josephine Torrington has ever been through.
But sadly it was not the first loved one she has lost to the disease.
Cancer has claimed the lives of two of her aunts and her sister Lindsay was recently diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35. It’s caused by a rare genetic mutation in her family.
Now, Josephine, from Stamshaw, has taken the drastic decision to have both her breasts removed – and potentially have her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed as well, as both breast cancer and ovarian cancer are common in her family.
Josephine’s maternal grandmother died of ovarian cancer when she was in her mid 50s.
Her mum, Sue, was diagnosed with stage three ovarian cancer in 2014. Her cousin also developed breast cancer.
The research is of paramount importance to my family’s survivalJosephine Torrington
It’s taken a long time, but finally, Josephine has been confirmed as a carrier of the mutation.
‘Throughout all this time, we have been tested for the BRCA1 mutation,’ Josephine adds.
‘For years they couldn’t find a mutation in our DNA. But last year we finally had one found.
‘Unfortunately for us the mutation variant is so rare that only one family in the UK and one in the USA have got it.’
In March, Sue sadly lost her battle with ovarian cancer at the age of just 59.
‘The grieving has come back now,’ she adds.
‘There was a point where I was numb. There was so much going on. It was about survival.
‘I went from being there for mum to then being split between mum and my sister.
‘For the last month we were just being there for mum as much as possible.
‘She wasn’t in pain as such but she was massively grieving her health and her youth.
‘So there was a sense of relief for her to be away from that.’
In February, Josephine got the results of her tests and discovered that she had a 50 per cent chance of developing ovarian cancer and an 80 per cent chance of developing breast cancer.
Josephine has taken the decision to have a double mastectomy to cut her chances of developing breast cancer.
She hopes to have the operation at the end of October.
‘At least with a positive result the NHS will agree to preventative measures,’ she adds.
‘As awful as it is, it’s almost a relief because I have the options open to me now. Maybe it’s just a way of coping.
‘Finally, I know. Since I was five, my aunts started dying.
‘But it never should have reached my sister. She should have been tested properly and gone through preventative measures but we didn’t have a diagnosis.
‘In my family, chemotherapy doesn’t work. There’s no foolproof effective treatment.’
From the age of 35 onwards, Josephine will consider the removal of her ovaries and her fallopian tubes, to reduce the risk of developing ovarian cancer.
She’s also been told that there is a 50 per cent chance that she could pass the gene on to her children – should she choose to have them.
‘I did not originally plan to begin a family until my mid to late 20s, but now I must consider the possibility of not having children.
‘They can take an egg and create an embryo with my partner’s sperm,’ she adds. After a couple of weeks they can test it and see if it carries the mutation or not.
‘I’ve got to prepare for it. I’ve been told that if I was to freeze eggs now I could have the operation and at a later date carry my own children. That’s a possibility.’
Josephine is making the most of her current health by taking part in fundraising activities to raise money for Cancer Research UK and for Macmillan. She will be taking part in the Great South Run in October.
‘The research is of paramount importance to my family’s survival,’ she adds.
But how has the whole process affected her?
When Josephine first heard about her mum’s illness, she was teaching in China. She flew home and got a job working in a local school.
She gave up work to look after her mum and is now a supply teacher because she cannot commit to a full-time job. She hopes to return to teaching once she has had the operation.
‘Being in limbo was the most difficult part,’ she adds. The fact we hadn’t gone to the point of being able to do something about it was harrowing.
‘Being in the situation where action can be taken, it became a very obvious process of elimination. It was just a matter of accepting and making sure that these options were available to me and how it would impact on my life.
‘My way of dealing with it is to research and prepare for all the outcomes.
‘It’s the first thing I think about when I wake up and the last thing I think about when I fall asleep. It’s impacted on every relationship but it’s definitely brought my family closer together.
‘Now there is certainty, things are a lot better. Not knowing how mum was going to be from day to day and not knowing what could happen with my sister has been awful.
‘But as we are going further through the process things are becoming more certain and I am coping a lot better. I feel as though I fully grasp the reality and the severity of the situation.
‘Now I would like to have my life back.’
To raise money and support Josephine, please visit virginmoneygiving.com/JosephineTCR.
WHAT IS BRAC1 GENE?
According to the NHS, a fault (mutation) in certain genes can increase your risk of breast cancer.
Women at risk of having a faulty gene are offered tests and screening.
Genes called BRCA1, BRCA2, TP53, PALB2 or PTEN are the main ones linked to a high risk of breast cancer.
Everyone has these genes. If there is a fault in one of them, the risk of breast cancer is higher.
Faulty BRCA1 and BRCA2 genes also increase the risk of ovarian cancer. A blood test can identify whether you have a fault in one of these high-risk genes.
Who is tested for faulty genes?
If you are diagnosed with breast cancer and have a strong family history of breast and/or ovarian cancer, you will usually be offered a blood test to see whether you have a faulty gene.
If the test is positive, this means you have a higher risk of developing cancer in your other breast and, with BRCA1 and BRCA2, developing ovarian cancer.
Go to cancerresearchuk.org.