Wendy marks 25 years since she fought to save her own life
If you have never heard of the faulty BRCA1 gene and the hereditary breast and ovarian cancer it can pass down through generations of a family, then you wouldn't be alone.
But it may surprise you to learn that it was a woman from Chesterfield who took on the medical establishment 25 years ago and paved the way for women all over the world affected by breast cancer.
Sixty-two-year-old grandmother Wendy Watson was 37 when she persuaded doctors to perform a double-mastectomy in a desperate bid to halt the disease which had devastated three generations of her family.
Having watched her own grandmother and mother die of ovarian and breast cancer respectively, Wendy was shocked to learn years later from a cousin how may other women in her extended family had suffered with or died of breast cancer.
This was all the evidence Wendy needed to make her mind up and so she set about winning the medical profession over to her conviction that removing both breasts was the only way to be sure of beating the illness.
She said: “I thought, if you remove the breast tissue completely you are removing the risk of breast cancer.
“But it was just a matter of getting the medical profession to understand.
“I had my back against the wall and was trying to save my own life - I felt like I had nothing to lose.”
As luck would have it, Wendy was referred to the Family History Clinic at Manchester’s Nightingale Centre, where two professors had identified the BRCA1 gene, though there was still no test to confirm whether someone had the gene or not.
Wendy went ahead with the surgery in April 1992, despite alarmed reactions from family and friends.
She said: “Most people said it was a bit drastic, but I said, ‘you don’t get much more drastic than six-feet under in your 40s like my mum.
“Why would you not do it when you are walking around with a ticking time-bomb strapped to your chest which could go off at any time?
“I have never regretted the decision for a second and after having the surgery I felt extremely lucky.”
And realising the importance of her decision, Wendy next set about raising awareness of hereditary breast cancer and went on to set up the Hereditary Breast Cancer Helpline, which has now been running for 21 years.
The helpline, which runs 24 hours a day, seven days a week, supports those worried about their family history and provides full information on all the options currently available and referrals where appropriate.
Its latest campaign is called Make One Person Aware and asks visitors to its website to share a link directing people to an information page about hereditary breast cancer.
To see the page visit www.breastcancergenetics.co.uk/make-one-person-aware.