‘I have lived under the shadow of cancer all my life and after my mum died, I knew I had to be tested’

A mum has opened up about having to have a mastectomy – after finding out her breasts could kill her. Siobhan Gracey inherited a deadly gene from her mum and knows there is a chance she could pass it onto her own children too.

Siobhan, originally from Wigan, had a double mastectomy four years ago and recently she also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed. The mum of three now writes a blog, in which she and daughter, Orla, perform ‘check your breasts’ dances.

Siobhan, 33, was pregnant with her first child when her mum, Geraldine, died from ovarian cancer in November 2010. Tests showed Geraldine, 51, had the BRCA1 gene which makes certain cancers very likely.

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In August 2013, when Siobhan was pregnant with her second child, she found out that she too had the gene. It meant she had a 90% risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime and a 60% chance of ovarian cancer.

Siobhan also has a twin sister, Rebecca, who also carries the gene. In February 2019, Siobhan made the brave decision to have a double mastectomy and three weeks ago, she also had her ovaries and fallopian tubes removed.

She writes a blog: ‘Keeping Abreast of Life’ which details her own journey, and she and daughter, Orla, 12, perform ‘check your breasts’ dances for their followers. Mum of three Siobhan says: “I have lived under the shadow of cancer all my life and after my mum died, I knew I had to be tested.

The gene meant Siobhan had a 90% risk of developing breast cancer in her lifetime and a 60% chance of ovarian cancer.
(Image: Focus Features)

“It was a blow, finding out that both Rebecca and I have the gene. But in some ways, it was a relief just to know the truth.

“I have to accept that any one of my three young children could also have the gene, and it is a burden I have to carry. We’re living with a ticking timebomb – knowing there is a 50% chance my three children could carry a killer cancer gene.

“But I won’t let this rule our lives. I’ve missed my mum more than ever since my recent surgery, I’ve entered the menopause now and I’m coping with all the side-effects and stress. But I know I’m lucky to be alive.”

Siobhan and husband Callum
Siobhan and husband Callum
(Image: Focus features)

Geraldine was first diagnosed with breast cancer when Siobhan was 11 years old. She had a single mastectomy and chemo and radiotherapy, and in 2003, she tested positive for BRCA1.

In 2009, when Siobhan was 19, the cancer returned in Geraldine’s ovaries. She died a year later at the age of 51.

Siobhan says: “Mum died when I was four months pregnant with my first child and so I had enough to cope with. I didn’t want to be tested.”

In the end she waited until she was 23, just three months after marrying her husband Callum. She – and twin sister, Rebecca – both tested positive for the gene.

Siobhan during surgery
Siobhan during surgery
(Image: Focus Features)

Siobhan, who has three children, Orla, Isaac and Scarlett, made the decision to have a double mastectomy and reconstruction in February 2019. Even her nipples were removed since keeping them would have meant the cancer risk would have been higher.

She says: “There’s a part of it which is almost like a ticking clock in your head. And so, the surgery was almost a relief for me.

“I was sad to say goodbye to my boobs but I like my new ‘foobs’ too. I’ve just had areola medical pigmentation tattoos done, and they look amazing.”

Siobhan's three kids
Siobhan’s three kids

Her breast cancer risk dropped from 90% to less than 10% and it dropped again at the end of August this year, when she underwent a salpingo-oophorectomy; the removal of ovaries and fallopian tubes. Siobhan is now coping with symptoms of an enforced menopause.

She says: “Often, I’m up all night, with my mind racing, and I start to think about mum. This is all about her, after all, and all about being a mum myself.”

Siobhan knows that there is a 50/50 chance her children will have inherited the BRCA1 gene – although they will not find out until they turn 18. She says: “We talk to them about it, as much as we can. We hope, by the time they’re older, there will new advances in medicine.”

Siobhan writes a blog called ‘Keeping Abreast of Life’ – a title she adopted from a book her mother began when she was initially diagnosed with breast cancer.

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