My breasts could kill me

Dawn Porter investigates the nature and treatment of breast cancer

Dawn Porter investigates the nature and treatment of breast cancer

I watched  “My breasts could kill me”, a two-part documentary on Sky 1 this evening, by writer and TV presenter Dawn Porter. I thought it was excellent – very informative and at the same time a deeply personal and emotional journey into the nature, detection and treatment of breast cancer.

Dawn’s mother and great-grandmother died as young women from breast cancer and, in these two films, Dawn discovers whether she is genetically predisposed to developing it. In this first episode she undergos a mammogram and takes the genetic test. Next week she will undergo a further breast MRI and will find out if she carries the breast cancer gene.

In one emotional scene Dawn is told by a doctor that given her family history she has a 40 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. But the tests may reveal an even greater risk. Of the faulty genes she may have inherited, the most critical are called BRCA1 and BRCA2. Given her family history, the chance of Dawn having inherited faults in these genes is 50/50. And if the faults are present, she has an 80 per cent chance of developing breast cancer. The genetic test results may therefore give Dawn an unenviable decision: whether to have her breasts removed in order to prevent cancer forming in the first place.

During her journey Dawn meets many inspiring people whose lives have been changed forever because of their relationship with breast cancer. I found the scene of the beautiful  23-year-old girl being treated for breast cancer which has spread to her spine, undergoing chemotherapy very moving. It brought back very visceral memories for me, so much so that I actually felt myself retching in sympathy at one point.

Dawn also meets a mother and daughter who have both had elective mastectomies and were the first and youngest to have this type of surgery in the UK; a 29-year-old woman who has become a lingerie model focusing on underwear for women who have had breast surgery; and a 32-year-old man who has had to come to terms with having a “woman’s” disease and the stigmas attached to this, including attaining the nickname ‘Johnny One Boob’.

In part two of this documentary which will be shown tomorrow, Tuesdsay 7 July, Dawn will discover whether she carries the gene for hereditary breast cancer.