MOTHER’S DAY

A CHANCE TO SAVE MY LIFE

The Jewish Chronicle - - FRONT PAGE - FAM­ILY STE­FANIE DANIELS

THIS MOTHER’S Day I am cel­e­brat­ing be­ing a woman, even though I am about to have surgery to take away the things that, bi­o­log­i­cally, de­fine my gen­der. I am hav­ing these op­er­a­tions even though there is ab­so­lutely noth­ing wrong with me.

My beau­ti­ful, strong, in­cred­i­ble mother passed away two years ago and didn’t have this chance. I have been given the choice to pro­tect my­self so that’s what I am cel­e­brat­ing.

I am a car­rier of the BRCA gene mu­ta­tion, which makes me far more likely than most women to de­velop breast or ovar­ian cancer in my life­time, there­fore, I am hav­ing a dou­ble mas­tec­tomy and my ovaries re­moved. The risk for women like me is 55-70 per cent, com­pared to the es­ti­mated 11 per cent risk in the gen­eral pop­u­la­tion.

Ashke­nazi Jews are more likely than oth­ers to carry this mu­ta­tion, which is a ter­ri­ble legacy. Yet I am de­ter­mined to see this treat­ment as a pre­cious gift of life.

If I seem an­noy­ingly pos­i­tive, please don’t get me wrong. Two months af­ter my mum, Les­ley Feld­man, died, I gave birth to my baby girl — Leila Is­abelle. The cir­cle of life is a strange one and it was prob­a­bly the most dif­fi­cult, bit­ter-sweet thing I’ve ever had to do. Af­ter sur­viv­ing that, I know I can take on this chal­lenge. I know my own strength be­cause noth­ing can ever be as dif­fi­cult.

A few years ago, Mum in­vited me over, along with my broth­ers Mitchell and Spencer. She had been di­ag­nosed with ovar­ian cancer a few years be­fore, and had stayed strong through ev­ery­thing. She sat us down and ex­plained to us that she had de­cided to be tested for some­thing called the BRCA gene mu­ta­tion be­cause she’d be­come aware that there may be new treat­ments avail­able to people who were car­ri­ers. We were un­aware of any fam­ily his­tory, so she wasn’t ex­pect­ing to test pos­i­tively — but she had.

I didn’t ac­tu­ally take in much of what she was say­ing but I re­mem­ber her ex­plain­ing to the three of us that, as a woman, my risk was greater than my broth­ers. How­ever, she in­sisted that I wasn’t to do any­thing about it un­til af­ter I’d had my chil­dren. Noted.

This was be­fore An­gelina Jolie was di­ag­nosed as a car­rier of the BRCA gene, go­ing pub­lic in 2013 about her dou­ble mas­tec­tomy. Sud­denly the BRCA gene mu­ta­tion was all over the me­dia. I don’t know whether I was in de­nial but even then I didn’t iden­tify my­self with what she was go­ing through.

Fast for­ward to Jan­uary 2015, when mum was ad­mit­ted to hospi­tal be­fore fi­nally be­ing trans­ferred to the North Lon­don Hospice. Here, Mum and the whole fam­ily were all given the most in­cred­i­ble sup­port and care as she ap­proached the end of her beau­ti­ful, won­der­ful life.

Her room was filled with colour­ful draw­ings from the many kids in our fam­ily. My brother Mitchell set up speak­ers in her room and we were ser­e­naded with songs from Bar­bra Streisand. I still can’t lis­ten to her mu­sic with­out be­ing trans­ported back to that time. Be­lieve it or not, we laughed. She wouldn’t let us feel sorry for our­selves, she wouldn’t let us wal­low and we only cried a hand­ful of times — once when I asked her how I was go­ing to give birth with­out her…

She passed away in the early

I have been given the chance to save my life

hours of 3rd March 2015 and I did in­deed give birth to my sec­ond child Leila eight weeks later, with­out Mum there hold­ing my hand (in per­son any­way). As I held my baby daugh­ter in my arms, I made the de­ci­sion to go ahead and get tested for the BRCA mu­ta­tion. I was told to ex­pect the re­sults in a few weeks’ time.

Time passed quickly — such is the way with two young kids — and, to be hon­est, I com­pletely for­got about the re­sults un­til one day at bath-time. My hus­band Lee and I were jug­gling to keep the chil­dren calm so they’d go to sleep eas­ily (wish­ful think­ing) — try­ing to keep more of the bath water in the bath than on the floor and get­ting them both dressed for bed. The phone rang and when I picked it up it was my ge­net­ics coun­sel­lor.

“Oh hi! How are you?” I said, taken aback. She sounded se­ri­ous and went on to say that she was very sorry but I had tested pos­i­tive for the BRCA2 mu­ta­tion. I told her not to worry — weird things hap­pen when you’re try­ing to multi-task — and that I’d call her back once I’d spo­ken to my fam­ily.

Lee and I set­tled the chil­dren in bed and then had a chance to di­gest the news. I still felt the same — it was what it was and, any­way, I had over-

Giv­ing birth with­out Mum was so bit­ter­sweet

come the al­most im­pos­si­ble by stay­ing sane af­ter los­ing my mum.

I made a vow to my­self there and then, that I would do ev­ery­thing in my power to keep this at­ti­tude be­cause that’s how she was and she had cancer and I don’t, so how on earth could I ap­proach this jour­ney in any other way than cel­e­brat­ing the choice I had been given? I feel like ev­ery­thing I do in life, I still do to make Mum proud and my at­ti­tude to this surgery is no dif­fer­ent.

We shared the news with the rest of the fam­ily. My fa­ther, Trevor, gives me all his sup­port and I’m for­ever grate­ful that he al­ways made Mum feel beau­ti­ful, even at her low­est times.

My mum’s sis­ter, Doreen, shares my pos­i­tiv­ity and has been by my side at ev­ery ap­point­ment. She didn’t miss a heart­beat of my mum’s jour­ney and is do­ing the same for me. How blessed am I to have her. How blessed that she also shares this at­ti­tude.

The first step to our jour­ney was to deal with the ovaries. I quickly found out that, soon af­ter hav­ing this op­er­a­tion, the body goes into the menopause. The menopause! Oh no…mood swings, low sex drive, hot flushes, the list goes on and I feared for my hus­band and me. What has my in­cred­i­ble, sup­port­ive hus­band Lee done to de­serve this? How­ever, once you come out the

Ste­fanie and her mother at her wed­ding

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