Nursery worker, 23, with cancer gene has double mastectomy after disease killed mother and grandfather
Fiona Luscombe, from Plymouth, feared she would also succumb to BRCA2 gene which increases risk of cancer
'I grew up with cancer and I just couldn't risk it' she said
14:04 GMT, 28 November 2012
Aged just 23, beautiful and engaged to be married – Fiona Luscombe shouldn't have a care in the world.
Instead she has taken the decision to undergo painful and potentially dangerous surgery to completely alter her body and have both breasts removed.
But the nursery worker feels she has been left with no other option, such is her fear of having to endure the horrendous battle which her mother and grandfather lost to breast cancer.
No choice: Fiona Luscombe, 23, (pictured before her operation left) felt she had no option but to have the double mastectomy. She had both breasts removed and had the implants put in at the same time (pictured after surgery right)
Miss Luscombe, from Plymouth, Devon, tested positive for the hereditary BRCA2 gene in October last year. Her 26-year-old sister Jenny, who had the test a year earlier, did not.
Both had watched their mother Brenda fight cancer for more than a decade. Brenda was first diagnosed with breast cancer when Fiona was just three-years-old which she overcame. But it returned 13 years later in the lymph nodes, liver and then her bones.
It was liver cancer that killed primary school classroom assistant Brenda aged 48 in August 2007 when Fiona was just 17. The family had earlier seen Brenda's father Frank Ross battle breast cancer as well.
'I don't remember much about when my grandfather was diagnosed,' said Miss Luscombe.
'After he had an operation I remember asking him why his left side looked different to his right. It's unusual – only one in 100,000 men in England are affected by breast cancer.'
It was these memories that prompted Miss Luscombe to take such drastic action and have a double mastectomy.
Memories: Fiona Luscombe's painful experiences watching her grandfather Frank Ross, pictured, and mother Brenda suffer cancer influenced her decision to have both breasts removed
Tragedy: Fiona Luscombe's mother Brenda battled breast cancer which later spread to her lymph nodes, liver and bones. She died aged 48
'I’ve grown up with cancer really,'
she said. 'I think it’s harder mentally that I thought it would be but I
couldn’t sit on it. I had to sort myself out.'
didn’t fully understand the full extent of it when I was younger but
when it came back mum was given six months to live and that was true to
'She was very organised. She arranged her own funeral and she helped us get through it.
Fear: Fiona Luscombe, 23, decided to have a double mastectomy after discovering she carried a gene that greatly increased her chances of developing breast cancer early
Devastated: Fiona, pictured on holiday in 2009, says the operation had tested her relationship with her finace
'I was devastated when I found out I had
the gene, totally gutted and it took a long time to get my head around
it. As soon as I got the test result I couldn’t sit on it.
Miss Luscombe said there was 'never any doubt' in her mind about what she would do if the test for the gene mutation was positive.
'Even though I have the gene I
wouldn’t have been scanned until I was 30 and I couldn’t wait that long.
After I got the result I think I was traumatised but then I became
'Mum had it when she was 32 years old. I’m 23 and I just couldn’t risk it.'
Her agonising story emerges just as former pop star Michelle Heaton has chronicled her own experiences having a double mastectomy after being told she has the BRCA2 gene earlier this year.
The mother-of-one came to the same decision as Miss Luscombe after doctors said she had an 85 per cent chance of developing breast cancer.
She said at the time: 'I just think that preventative surgery is the best option for me. I'll do whatever it takes to be here for my child – that's the bottom line.'
Scared: Former Liberty X singer Michelle Heaton has recently revealed her experience having a double mastectomy after also being told she has the BRCA2 gene
Luscombe was referred to a consultant at Mount Gould Hospital,
Plymouth, before being transferred to St Michael’s Hospital in Hayle,
Cornwall, and underwent surgery nine weeks ago.
She said: 'It went really well but it
was really daunting. Both breasts were removed at the same time. They
removed all the tissue and put the implants in.'
She admitted the operation had been a test of her health and relationship with her fiance of seven years Chris Warn.
'I’m engaged and it has been a challenge. Chris doesn’t talk very much about it. If I’m happy with it then he’s happy with it.
'He was with me when my mum died so he understands. He’s had to do everything for me though.It hasn’t been easy.'
Supportive: Fiona Luscombe's fiance Chris Warn has backed her decision to have a double mastectomy
Her father, Malcolm Luscombe, 63, retired from his fire officer job when Brenda was diagnosed and said he was 'very proud' of his daughter.
He said: 'I think the hereditary problem goes back beyond her grandfather. It was a shock when he was diagnosed and just goes to show men can get it too.
'It was big decision for Fiona to have this operation – a big step. I'm proud of her for being brave enough to go through with it.'
Miss Luscombe plans to return to her job at City College Plymouth Nursery in January once she is able to lift the children once again.
Her sister Jenny, 26, has come back to Britain from Spain, where she is a teacher, to look after her.
In the mean time she wants to raise awareness for people with hereditary breast cancer.
'I’m trying to do all I can by handing out leaflets and giving people the opportunity to speak to someone who has had their breasts removed and been through it,' she added.
BRCA 2: THE FAULTY GENE WHICH INCREASES CANCER RISK
A cell needs to have a number of mistakes in its genetic code before it becomes cancerous.
Doctors call these mistakes faults or mutations. Most of these gene mutations develop during our lifetime.
can occur due to substances people come into contact with that cause
cancer. Or they can happen because of mistakes that cells make when
copying their genetic code before dividing into two new cells.
of these abnormal cells die or are killed off by the immune system. It
usually takes many years to gather enough genetic mistakes, so this is
one of the reasons that cancer is generally more common as people get
But it is possible to
be born with a gene fault that may increase the risk of cancer. This
doesn't mean you will definitely get cancer.
But it means that you are more likely to develop cancer than the average person.
Scientists have identified a number of these so-called 'cancer genes'.
first genes to be found were BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 – women with these genes
have a 50 to 80 per cent chance of getting breast cancer in their
Only people with a strong family history of breast cancer can be tested for the gene.
who test positive can either have regular breast screenings, take a
prevention drug which will reduces the risk or have surgery to remove
their breasts (and possibly ovaries).
Source: Cancer Research UK