Losing a mother to breast cancer

TV presenter, Dawn Porter, who lost her mother to breast cancer

TV presenter, Dawn Porter, who lost her mother to breast cancer

I mentioned Dawn Porter’s excellent documentary, “My Breasts Could Kill Me ” which was shown on Sky 1 earlier this week.  Dawn’s mother died from breast cancer when she was only 34, two days before Dawn’s 7th birthday.

Writing in the Sunday Times this week about losing her mother Dawn reflects that “her death …taught (me) a very hard lesson at a very early age that most people realise far too late — that life is brief and you have to make it count. I swore to myself that if my destiny was to be the same as hers, I would never be able to say that I hadn’t made the most of it. With this incentive behind me, I have striven forward.”

I miss my mum more now than ever. I think the reasons for this are that I am about to turn 30, and in many ways I feel like my life is just beginning, but it was around now that hers began to end. I always wonder if we would have been close, if she would have supported me when I wanted to be a performer, if we would have shared clothes, gone on holiday together, spoken on the phone much, talked about boys, gone dancing — but who knows? I try not to speculate too much and just accept the way my life has turned out.

I do wish I wasn’t robbed of the opportunity to have that person in my life, but I was. So the best that I can do is to wish her well wherever she is, and promise myself that I will make the most of my own life, and always do her proud.”

Breast cancer can be hereditary, and since as far back as Dawn remembes she has feared that  the same could happen to her.

Dawn admits that up until filming this documentary she tried to put breast cancer out of her mind and was too scared to check for lumps for fear of what she’d find.

“But as I’ve grown older, I’ve had to face just how young Mum was when she died  –  and that there is a strong chance she had a faulty gene which I have inherited.

When I turned 30 this year, almost the same age as Mum when she died, I knew it was time to confront my worst fears. I had to explore the risks.

I am single at the moment, but as I get older the idea of motherhood is becoming more important to me. My biggest fear of having a family is suffering the same fate as my mother and not being around for my children.”

So Dawn decided to turn her personal investigation into a TV show exploring cancer, which could offer women support and information.

“In fact” she says, “it was a decision I regretted several times, for I had no idea just how personal and upsetting the journey would become; I felt very exposed having TV cameras constantly following me as I put myself in the position of patient. But this project transpired to be the most valuable, worthwhile experience of my life.”

During the course of the programme, Dawn meets  women (and one man) who have been diagnosed with the disease. “I just kept thinking how unfair the illness is. And having cancer is not just about death, it’s about how you live when life is out of your control”.

In the final part of the documentary Dawn undergoes genetic testing so learn whether she is genetically predisposed to cancer.

“The outcome was something I knew would change my life for ever, as it was what I’ve feared most since my mother’s death. If I had the genes, I would have to decide whether to have a double mastectomy and lose the breasts I love and feel are a huge part of me.

But I was lucky. The genetic test came back clear. Finally, I don’t feel scared any more. Although I’m still high risk, I can manage that  –  but if I’d had the genes, breast cancer would have been a near-certainty.

A positive result would have meant facing something horrendous  –  breast cancer or a double mastectomy  –  so after I’d done the test I did wonder whether I’d just rather not know. But now I’m glad I agreed to the test and can move on with my life.

What I’ve discovered over the past few months has changed me as a person. Although the prospect of having an MRI every year does make me feel safer, since I am being regularly monitored, it still means that each year I could be told I have breast cancer.

I don’t know how I will respond when I’m faced with the annual wait for the results  –  but I feel now just how important every year is.

Because my mum died so young, I have always made an effort to make the most of life  –  but now that belief goes far deeper. I’ve never been one to plan for the future or save for a rainy day, but now I live even more in the moment.

I feel lucky to get out of bed every morning and be healthy, no matter how long that lasts.

I’m so glad I undertook this journey, despite all the shocks and sadness I encountered. The show is the most valuable thing I’ve ever done and it has left me feeling very lucky  –  not just because I appreciate my life and health but because all this knowledge is going to help me: I just made a show that saved my life.”

(Excerpts from Sunday Times and Daily Mail)