A paralegal who was told she has more than an 88 per cent chance of developing breast cancer is planning a major fundraising event to raise awareness and money to help in the fight against the disease.
Nicola Downey, who is based in Hudgell Solicitors’ London office, tested positive for the BRCA 1 gene, which means she has an 88.8 per lifetime risk of developing breast cancer, as well as a 60 per cent lifetime risk of ovarian cancer, compared to the 12 per cent risk faced by the general population.
Now, she has made the potentially life-saving decision to have a double mastectomy and reconstructive surgery in a major operation early next year.
Determined to raise awareness of breast checks among women and the potential for being a carrier of the faulty gene, Nicola, 26, has planned Pink Picnic in the Park in London’s Regents Park on Sunday, August 16, raising funds for the Breast Cancer Now charity.
Entertainment, games, activities, drinks and tea party-themed food will be part of the day from 2.30pm to 7.30pm, followed by a pub quiz at the Phoenix Pub in Cavendish Square from 8pm to 10pm, and tickets are now on sale.
Nicola, who lives in North London, said: “Breast Cancer Now, which was formerly Breakthrough Breast Cancer and Breast Cancer Campaign, is very close to our hearts and dad and I have completed marathons for them.
“The main aim is to raise awareness of the charity the work they are doing.
“They have a big focus on working on preventative action and a cure for breast cancer by 2050.
“Cancer is a word people are scared to say out loud and, the more open we are about it, the more issues can be overcome and it can be dealt with.
“I don’t want Pink Picnic in the Park to be morbid. I have told my story to give people an understanding and context. But it’s about having fun, raising money and having a really good day.”
Nicola made the decision to have tests after her mother, Lorraine, lost her battle against breast cancer in 1996, aged just 36.
Lorraine was diagnosed with breast cancer aged 32 and passed away after developing secondary breast cancer four years later, just before Nicola’s eight birthday.
A genetic link for the faulty gene had not been made by medical experts at the time of Lorraine’s death and her blood was stored to enable Nicola and her three sisters to be tested in the future if they wished.
With advances in medical research since 1996, three of the four sisters have now tested positive for the gene and Nicola made plans for the preventative surgery under the expert care of her consultant at the Royal Marsden Hospital in London.
Nicola said: “I decided to start the process of getting tested in May 2013 and we had mum’s blood tested at a genetic hospital in Harrow.
“Mum’s blood tested positive for the BRAC 1 cancer gene, which meant each of my sisters and I had a 50/50 chance of being a carrier.
“I was tested four weeks later and was positive too, with an 88.8 per cent chance of breast cancer in my lifetime and a 60 per cent chance of ovarian cancer.
“I think I knew it was coming because I am so like my mum. I am the genetic version of her.
“I’m an outgoing and confident person. But I reverted back more than I thought I would.
“Due to my age, I was always very sure I would have the preventative surgery if I had the gene.
“With it being more in the press after Angelina Jolie did it, I had read more about it, and I have been having consultations about my options since March.”
Nicola will undergo four to five hours of major surgery next year, reducing her risk of developing breast cancer to just four per cent.
“There are lots of things that have shaken me about it and I’m conscious of,” said Nicola.
“But my sisters and I didn’t have my mum there and I never want any of them, or my dad, to see me ill.
“In my head, it’s a no brainer, and I’m completely comfortable with the decision I’ve made.
“My friends and family, as well as my colleagues at Hudgell Solicitors, have been wonderful and I’d like to thank all of them for their love and continued support.
“Hudgell Solicitors, in particular Michelle Maltby, have been fantastic about my appointment dates and have allowed me to be really flexible with work, which has been great.
“They have helped me to promote my event and made me feel very at ease. I don’t want the operation to affect my work life, as I’m still training, and I still want to progress.
“They have been brilliant in helping me to ensure that can happen.”
Tickets for Pink Picnic in the Park, which takes place at The Hub in Regent’s Park, London, NW1 4RU, cost £20 plus a £3 booking fee for anyone over the age of 14, £10 for children and youngsters under three do not have to pay.
Raffle tickets and a goody bag, which includes merchandise from Hudgell Solicitors and Breast Cancer Now, will be included.
Visit www.pinkpicnic.org to book ticket, or find out more information about the event.